How are CASA/GAL Volunteers advocating through the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our primary concern is always for the well-being of the children, families, volunteers, and staff who are associated with CASA. Since Governor Inslee activated a Stay Home, Stay Safe order here in Washington State, programs' offices are closed for the time being. However, their staff are working from home to support the volunteers and continue to serve the children and their families as best they can. Here are some ways CASA/GAL Volunteers are advocating during this time:
- Maintaining phone contact with children
- Checking in with caregivers to see how the children are coping
- FaceTime/Skype with children
- Porch/sidewalk visits
- Providing the family with resources that are available in the community
- Communicating any concerns or issues with CASA/GAL Staff
- Please know the local CASA/GAL programs are committed to taking all precautionary measures to protect volunteers, employees, and the children and families they serve.
What is CASA?
Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers are community members just like you who ensure each neglected and abused child’s needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system while working to find safe, permanent homes for these most vulnerable children. CASA/GAL volunteers get to know the children, their caregivers, and the facts of the case. The children already may have been removed from the home and placed in foster care, or they may be at risk of entering foster care. CASA/GAL volunteers take part in such processes as child and family visits, court hearings, and meetings about the children's needs. CASA/GAL volunteers speak for the best interests of the children, raising any concerns and exploring all of the options for permanent homes.
Who are CASA/GAL volunteers?
Ordinary people who care about the well-being of kids. CASA/GAL volunteers come from all backgrounds. Many work full-time. Some are students, working parents, or retired people. Flexibility, rather than employment status, is the critical factor. Most CASA/GAL volunteers work on a single case at a time. No legal expertise is required.
How does a child become involved in court proceedings?
The child comes to the attention of the court once a dependency petition alleging abuse or neglect has been filed at juvenile court. At the first hearing, the court may order that a CASA/GAL volunteer be appointed for the child.
What kind of cases is a CASA/GAL volunteer assigned to?
The CASA/GAL volunteer is appointed to cases in which children are alleged to have been neglected, physically abused, sexually abused, and emotionally abused and/or if a parent or guardian is unable or unwilling to care for the child.
What are the responsibilities of a CASA/GAL volunteer?
A CASA/GAL volunteer serves not only as a mentor, but also as a strong advocate and officer of the court. You will build a stable relationship with a young person, get to know their unique history, and interview the important people in that child’s life. You will also help them plan and develop age appropriate goals and access needed medical, education, career, and housing services. When the case goes to court, you will make informed recommendations to the judge about what is best for the child – and make a life-changing difference.
How does a CASA/GAL volunteer collect information about a case?
The CASA/GAL volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, social worker, school personnel, health care providers, foster parents and others who know about the child's situation. The CASA/GAL volunteer also reviews records pertinent to the case. The amount of time required depends on many factors, such as the complexity of the case and the experience of the CASA/GAL volunteer.
How do children benefit from having a CASA/GAL volunteer?
Decisions are made every day which affect the lives of children involved in juvenile court cases. A CASA/GAL volunteer helps these decisions to be made promptly and with greater information and sensitivity to the child's individual needs. A CASA/GAL volunteer works for better outcomes, and provides children living out of their home with the knowledge that there is a community around them who cares.
How do I become a CASA/GAL volunteer?
You can begin with a phone call to your local CASA/GAL program or a visit to their website; there you will find the information you need to get started. Local program staff will prepare you for this unique position and help you to decide whether you are well-suited for such an important role.
The CASA/GAL volunteer is required to complete the following:
1. Be at least 21+ and complete the CASA/GAL Volunteer Application and interview
2. An initial 30-hour training course and at least 12 hours per year of ongoing training
3. A comprehensive background check and 3 reference checks.
After successful completion, the judge will swear you in as an officer of the court. The juvenile court, the children, and the community highly value CASA/GAL volunteers. The volunteer is provided with support and guidance. Throughout the year there are in-service trainings, recognition events, and conferences to support a CASA/GAL volunteer through their work.
How will I be supported?
The volunteer is provided with support and guidance every step of the way. Throughout the year the volunteer meets with CASA/GAL program staff, has access to additional training, conferences, and written resources provided by the program and the National CASA/GAL Association. CASA volunteers also benefit from peer support provided by other volunteers.
What is my time commitment?
Each advocate, each child, and each case is different. The amount of time devoted to a case depends on the specific needs of the case and the amount of time the advocate has available. CASA/GAL volunteers devote an average of 5-10 hours per month to each case. Some of this time can be spent on evenings or weekends, but there are court hearings, phone calls, and meetings during working hours as well. The CASA/GAL volunteer is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for the child unlike other individuals involved who may rotate cases. Local programs typically require a 18-24 month minimum commitment so that the volunteer can stay on the case through the end.
Who is your "typical" CASA volunteer? Are there any special qualifications?
A CASA volunteer must care about children and their welfare-that's the critical piece one needs in order to be a CASA. One's life experience, common sense, and the drive to help will provide one with all the background they need to begin. No special background or education is required to become a CASA volunteer. We encourage people from all professional, ethnic, and educational backgrounds to join. Once accepted into a program, one will receive all necessary training in courtroom procedures, social services, the juvenile justice system and the special needs of abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers are everyday people who bring a fresh set of eyes to the case. Advocates must be patient, open-minded people who have good communication skills, a history of following through on commitments, and a willingness to accept guidance. Above all, they must care about children.
How many children does a CASA/GAL volunteer work with at one time?
CASA programs offers a powerful intervention because the volunteer focuses on a small number of children. In each case the CASA/GAL volunteer supports one child or a sibling group. At the recommendation of their supervisor, CASA/GAL volunteers may take on an additional case.
How old are the children involved?
The judge may assign a CASA volunteer to any child, youth, or young adult involved with the juvenile court. Your assigned child’s age can range from a newborn to age 20.
How does a CASA/GAL volunteer's role differ from that of an attorney's?
Both CASA/GAL volunteers and attorneys have a duty to investigate firsthand the child’s circumstances and make best interests recommendations to the court, but there are significant differences. CASA/GAL volunteers are legally prohibited from giving children legal advice – even if they are attorneys. Unlike attorneys, CASA/GAL volunteers submit written reports to the court, can give testimony. An attorney might have many clients – often 100 or 200, although many also have case limits. Because of their one-on-one relationships, CASA/GAL volunteers have more time to devote to their children, getting to know them and their circumstances.
What are some of the challenges of being a CASA/GAL volunteer?
Being a CASA/GAL volunteer is both rewarding and challenging. The child welfare system is bureaucratic and overburdened, and CASA/GAL volunteers often have to work hard to get the system to respond. Because of court decisions, social service plans, and other factors out of a CASA volunteer's control, the volunteer may face disappointments. The biggest reward comes on the day when the child is placed in a safe, permanent home, and knowing they made a difference in a child's life.