CASA Inaugurates New Volunteers

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`The Board of Directors of CASA NorthCentral Nebraska would like to congratulate our first group of CASA Volunteers! The swearing-in ceremony, followed by a reception was held at the Holt County Courthouse on Friday, March 3, with approximately 40 people in attendance.

`This year marks the 41st Anniversary of the National CASA/GAL Association for Children. CASA NorthCentral Nebraska regional office is located at 115 N. 5th Street in O’Neill. CASA is currently recruiting volunteers. For more information about CASA, to apply to volunteer, or to make a donation, contact: John Robert Smith, Executive Director at [email protected] or at (402) 340-3185.

What is a CASA Volunteer?

Court-appointed Special Volunteer Advocates (CASA) are trained citizens who are appointed by a judge to speak in the best interests of a child who has been tried as an abused, neglected and/or dependent child in the juvenile court system. The CASA concept was developed to ensure that judges who hear cases of abuse and neglect receive the facts and information necessary to make informed decisions regarding the long-term well-being of each child. In jurisdictions that have adopted a CASA program, a juvenile court judge appoints a CASA volunteer for the juvenile case and the volunteer becomes part of the judicial process, working with lawyers and social workers according to procedures established by the jurisdiction. In contrast to lawyers and social workers, CASA volunteers act exclusively as the eyes and ears of judges in speaking for the best interests of children.

What is the Role of a CASA Volunteer?

CASA advocates are usually assigned to one family case at a time to represent groups of children or siblings. Advocates are responsible for visiting the child(s) in their placement on a monthly basis. The advocate will also review agency reports, court documents and other relevant records and speak with the child, foster parents, case workers and other parties involved in the child’s case. Utilizing the information captured, the advocate then writes a report which is submitted to the Court. The judge uses the report to help him make decisions about the case, including the child’s placement and care needs. Advocates will attend the court on the scheduled hearing date and may also attend other child-related meetings and/or cases. Each volunteer is supported by an Advocate Supervisor who advises, advises and guides the advocate throughout their case.

Who can become a CASA?

Advocates are ordinary citizens from all walks of life; no special background or law is required. Instead, volunteer advocates are rigorously screened for their maturity, objectivity, communication skills, and commitment. Advocates must be at least 21 years old, be able to provide three references and pass DCFS and criminal background checks, including fingerprints. To become an advocate, you must also be able to maintain confidentiality of information, be able to work within established court and agency guidelines, have good listening and observing skills, and be able to prepare clear and concise written summaries of the information collected.

How Much Time Is Involved in Becoming a CASA?

Initially, you should be able to complete around 30 hours of training. You must complete 12 credit hours of continuing education (CEC) annually thereafter. This CEC can be easily obtained in various ways throughout the year. Advocates are required to make a 24-month commitment to the program, but ideally stay on the case until it is closed. Regarding casework, CASA volunteer time varies from case to case, week to week, month to month. No specific number of hours is requested; time spent based on the needs of the case. Visits to children are based on volunteer and family schedules; court hearings and other meetings determined by the Court or others. In general, our Advocates spend up to 15 hours per month working on their cases, with an average of 6-10 hours.

How Can CASA Benefit Children?

There are many child advocacy programs, but CASA is the only program where volunteers are appointed by the Juvenile Court to represent the best interests of the child. Often CASA is the only constant in a child’s life during this traumatic time; lawyers, case workers and even judges can change. CASA volunteers have only one case to focus on; the other principals involved probably had dozens of cases. CASA brings an “ordinary person, common sense” perspective to the case; other principals have institutional constraints. Studies have shown that when a child has CASA, that child is more likely to receive services. But most importantly, by simply providing additional information that the Court would not accept, CASA made a difference in the child’s life.


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