FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a CASA volunteer?
A CASA volunteer is an officer of the court. A judge appoints a special advocate, as mandated in SDCL 26-8A-20, to represent the best interest of an abused or neglected child in court proceedings.
What does a CASA volunteer do?
A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court. He or she recommends to the judge what the child needs to be safe and what is in the child’s best interest in securing a permanent home. A CASA volunteer advocates for a speedy decision that considers a child’s sense of time.
What are a CASA volunteer’s main responsibilities?
The three most important tasks for the CASA volunteer are to:
Complete an intensive independent investigation of the case
Report findings to the Court
Ensure representation of the child’s best interest
How much time does it take to be a CASA volunteer?
Training to be a CASA volunteer is 30 hours over 5 weeks. The time you put into investigating your case will reflect the needs and size of the family in the case you choose. The average advocate spends 10–15 hours a month.
Why does a child need a CASA volunteer?
When the court is making decisions that will affect a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson—an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, they also have other interests. The CASA volunteer is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interest of the child. CASA volunteers are assigned one case at a time, one CASA volunteer to one case, to provide a “voice in court”. A CASA volunteer can give his or her full individual attention to a case.
An abused or neglected child has come from a world of chaos and instability. For the child, there is fear; fear of being hurt; fear of being alone and fear about the future. For children who are in out of home placements, there can be many changes in schools and homes before a decision is made on where the child should live. A CASA volunteer can be the sole source of stability and comfort to fill an enormous void in the child’s life. A CASA volunteer is a trusted, dependable adult who doesn’t go away and who gives the child hope for a better future.
What is the difference between the CASA and a Social Worker?
The roles are not the same. The CASA volunteer is independent from the social services system and focuses solely on the child. The DYFS caseworker serves the family—parents and child—by providing direct services. DYFS caseworkers are not able to be a wholly independent voice because they are part of the agency that has already taken a position in the case by filing a petition and bringing the matter to court. A CASA volunteer is an independent voice, not part of an agency that may be constrained by rules and regulations, agency policies and fiscal limitations. The CASA volunteer is an officer of the court.
Why does a child need both a CASA volunteer and an attorney?
A CASA volunteer is able to spend as much time as it takes to gather information about the child and the child’s family. A CASA volunteer serves at the request of a judge and provides a report on the best placement for a child. If a court had to pay an attorney to do this job, it would be too costly. A child’s attorney provides legal representation. The CASA volunteer and the child’s attorney can work as a team to represent the best interest of the child.
Do I choose my case?
Yes, each CASA volunteer is given a selection of cases to review and choose from. We may suggest a case, but the CASA volunteer always has the right to choose his or her case.
I cannot make one or two of the training dates. Do I have to wait for the next training?
No, please call the office and we can make arrangements for you to make up one or two missed classes.
I work full time. Can I still be a CASA volunteer?
Yes, as a CASA volunteer you have control of your investigation schedule. The only conflicts you might have are court hearings and some case meetings. With advance notice, staff can attend on your behalf if you are unavailable.
What happens if I go out of town or am on vacation?
CASA staff or another CASA volunteer will cover any important meetings or court hearing you would miss.
I live in Cumberland County, do I have to volunteer in Cumberland County or can I volunteer in Salem or Gloucester County?
You can volunteer in Cumberland, Gloucester or Salem County regardless of which of these three counties you live in.
Why do CASA programs cost money to run, when volunteers are not paid?
CASA programs are required to hire staff to manage the program and to provide for the recruitment, screening, training and supervision of volunteers to ensure the highest quality services are provided. Program costs include: salaries, office support, computers and equipment, travel and training. National CASA has program standards that all CASA programs are required to meet.
How are CASA programs funded?
CASA programs are locally supported. Fundraising events, annual giving and grants provide on-going support. National CASA has a grant system to help start up or expand programs. However, CASA programs depend heavily on the support of individuals and businesses in the local community.
Does the court listen to what a CASA has to say?
YES! Judges know their decisions are only as good as the information they receive. They count on CASA volunteers to be an independent voice and they know that CASA volunteers have more time to focus on specific cases. A CASA volunteer who can tell the court “I was there- this is what I observed” can be invaluable.
How do we know CASA volunteers are effective?
Studies have shown CASA volunteers to be effective in reducing court costs, reducing stays in foster care and even in reducing rates of delinquency and children in need of supervision. A study conducted by the National CASA Association showed that children with a CASA volunteer spent approximately one year less in foster care than a child without a CASA volunteer. This represents a savings to taxpayers and it also means that a child finds a permanent, safe home more quickly.