At any given time, dozens of Chautauqua County children are in the foster care system due to abusive and neglectful homes. While we can't control where these children come from, we can impact where they go.
In the same amount of time you can do something ordinary, you can do something extraordinary. You can change the life of an abused or neglected child in foster care.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) are volunteers who are appointed by a judge to provide a consistent and caring adult who ensures that their assigned child's educational, medical, social service and mental health needs are understood, that the court hears what is in the child's best interest, and that these children have plans for a permanent home in a timely manner. These children are likely to move from one foster family to another, from one unfamiliar neighborhood to another and one school to another. The children are often confused, rootless and likely very angry, and they deserve what you would want for your own children, or other children you know personally they deserve the stability and opportunity that comes with a safe and caring, permanent home.
So what exactly does a CASA volunteer do, and how do they do it?
CASA volunteers wear many hats:
Visitor: Volunteers develop an informal, one-on-one relationship with the child, providing understanding, explanations of the complex court and child welfare systems, attention, and support.
Researcher: Volunteers engage in comprehensive research that includes conducting personal interviews with family members and professionals involved with the child and reviewing records, documents and clinical data.
Reporter: Volunteers are responsible for providing the court with written reports for to each hearing.
Facilitator: Volunteers facilitate communication between the court, social workers, attorneys, therapists, teachers, etc., to ensure that all parties fulfill their obligations to the child in a timely manner.
A CASA volunteer must:
Be 21 years of age
Complete required screening processes
Participate in a pre-service interview and post-training interview
Attend a 30-hour training program including observation in court
Study after study indicates that without appropriate intervention, abused and neglected children are much more vulnerable than their peers to drug abuse, teen pregnancy, mental illness, homelessness, unemployment and crime. The Honorable William A. Thorne Jr., Utah Court of Appeals, who served on the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, has stated that "a CASA volunteer can be an invaluable part of correctly identifying the problem and correctly identifying the solutions we need the fresh perspective a CASA volunteer can bring." In 2005, The National CASA Association engaged Organizational Research Services to conduct a national survey of Family Court judges. Overall, 550 judges agreed that the work of CASA volunteers is "high quality, beneficial to judicial decision-making and beneficial to the children and families served." The judges also reported that CASA volunteers' activities have been "very useful" in their decisions about case outcomes and "very effective" in activities that support court processes. They find volunteers "most effective" in considering the best interests of the child and in monitoring the case.
CASA volunteers do not replace a caseworker or an attorney. The CASA does not provide legal counsel. The CASA volunteer does not provide case management or any therapeutic or family services. The child is appointed an attorney who represents what the child wants in court. The caseworker is employed by the Chautauqua County Department of Social Services and oversees many children who are in foster care. The CASA volunteer is assigned to one child and supports and advocates for what is best for that assigned child.
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life and may be people with no special background in law or social services. What all our volunteers have in common is the desire to make a difference for children in Chautauqua County. All Volunteers must participate in screening so CASA of Chautauqua County can ensure that the people who volunteer are appropriate to work with children, objective and committed.
With inaction we set these children up for failure. With action, we make a difference in the lives of these children. CASA of Chautauqua County, Inc. is holding a new volunteer training session next month. Our children need your help. Don't wait become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer by contacting the local CASA office at 753-4123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.