The role of a Court Appointed Special Advocate is different than a mentor or friend. Advocates make thorough inquiries into dependency matters by speaking with all parties involved in the case and submitting formal written reports to the court. The goal of a CASA is to move children efficiently through the child welfare system into safe, permanent homes where they can grow to be successful adults.
Tri-Lakes CASA provides volunteer advocates to children who have been removed from homes in Garland, Hot Spring, and Grant counties.
If you haven’t heard of the CASA program, it’s because judges, caseworkers, attorneys, and CASAs are required to maintain absolute confidentiality about the children they serve. In order to protect our children, therefore, the agency must work in relative anonymity.
CASAs are assigned to children already in the foster care system or to those at risk of entering foster care as a result of abuse, neglect and/or the parent’s/guardian’s inability to care for the child.
Only a judge can assign a CASA to a case. On occasion, the children’s or parent’s attorneys, the caseworkers’ attorney or the child’s foster parents, may request that the judge assign a CASA. As there are not enough CASA volunteers for every child in foster care, the judge often reserves assignment to cases which are particularly complicated or challenging.
CASAs may be assigned to children ranging in age from newborn through age 20.
The Department of Human Services is the agency that provides protection to Arkansan children in need. Caseworkers provide services to strengthen family life and enable children to remain safe in their own homes or to reunite them with their parents if they are already in foster care. A CASA does not replace a caseworker on the case but is an independent appointee of the court who monitors both the actions of the family and the case plan activity, with only the best interests of the child in mind.
In Arkansas, children involved in dependency proceedings are appointed their own attorney called an Attorney Ad Litem. The Attorney Ad Litem is the child’s legal representation.
A CASA, on the other hand, serves as the eyes and ears of the court. The advocate gathers information, monitors a child’s case plan, and reports back to the Attorney Ad Litem, the DHS, and the judge. The judge then uses the CASA findings to make better informed decisions regarding a child’s future.
Judges have noted the value of the information that a CASA brings to the proceedings and are appreciative of the unique perspective presented by CASAs. In addition, national studies show that a child who has been assigned a CASA is more likely to secure needed services in a timely manner; is moved from placement to placement less frequently; is more likely to have his/her case reviewed regularly by the court; and has a better chance of living in a safe, permanent home than those who do not have CASA representation.
How to Become a CASA Volunteer
To be accepted into a training session, prospective volunteers must complete an in-person interview with CASA staff. They must also pass thorough background screening and reference checks.
We offer two types of volunteer training:
- The traditional training series consists of 30 hours of in class training
- The Flex training consists of six weeks of 3 hours a week, in class training plus 5 weeks of online training
Whether you participate in traditional or flex training, you must also participate in a 3 hour court observation prior to obtaining your volunteer certification.
Volunteer Requirements and Experience
While some CASA volunteers work as partners, most CASAs work independently. That said, our advocates are never “alone.” Each volunteer is assigned a staff supervisor who is available to accompany advocates to court, home visits, or DHS meetings. Throughout the entire case, CASAs will be in contact with their supervisor for guidance and support.
No one specific type of background is required. All CASAs must have the time to devote to the case; the ability to communicate clearly, both orally and in writing; and must complete approximately 30 hours of classroom training and courtroom observation.
Most CASAs work full or part-time, some are retired, and some do not work outside the home. Daytime availability and flexibility are essential. Some of the work a CASA does will be gathering information from caseworkers, attorneys and other professionals who work business hours. Therefore, it is important to be able to reach them in their offices.
Each volunteer and each case is different. The amount of time devoted to a case depends on the specific family and the amount of time the volunteer has available. CASAs devote an average of 10-15 hours per month. As cases unfold, the demands of research, interviews and report writing will vary. Some weeks will be busier than others.
Advocates with the CASA program are asked to make a commitment to one case and may renew their commitments annually. The average CASA volunteers with us for three years, and many have been with us for ten years or more.
After you complete training and are sworn in by a judge, you will choose your first case from those we have available.
If you become a CASA, you will be assigned a single case. That case may have just one child or several children in the same family.
Yes. CASA volunteers must visit their appointed child at least once monthly. They must also attend court hearings as well as participate in Department of Human Services meetings and school conferences, as needed.