Monday, October 06, 2008
Court Appointed Special Advocates are a voice for children in the foster care system. I volunteer my time with a few different organizations but CASA is the most rewarding. In 1977, a Seattle judge conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. So successful was this program that soon judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates. In 1990, the US Congress encouraged the expansion of CASA programs with passage of the Victims of Child Abuse Act. As a CASA you are required to go through a training program before receiving your first assignment. At my local CASA program office, the training was scheduled to accommodate a class of professional men and women, most of whom work a regular 40-hour week. We trained a couple of hours at a time, one evening a week until we were through the course.
CASA is called in after children are placed in the foster care system. Once we are assigned, our job is to be the voice of our children in the court system. In order to be an effective voice, we have to know as much about the children and their circumstances as possible. We visit the children, whether they are placed in formal foster care or housed with relatives, and get to know their care-givers, with whom we communicate frequently. Depending on the age of the children, we also meet and communicate with school teachers, daycare providers, counselors and therapists. In most cases we also meet with the parents. Because we are not affiliated with Child Protective Services, the biological parents tend to welcome us as much as the foster parents do. We write reports about our findings and our opinions, which we present at various court hearings. We also advocate for services to help the children get into a permanent home. Whether we are assisting the parents in finding programs to help them fix up their homes in order to get their kids back, researching possible relative adoptions or looking for college scholarships, we can step in and help with whatever the children need. We continue our involvement with our children until they pass out of the system, either through reunification with their families, adoption or when they age out of the system .
Unfortunately, some children in foster care pass through many home situations and frequently their CASA is the only stable person throughout this process. In spite of all we do, the time commitment is not that great. I live in a very rural area with a shortage of foster homes and, as a result, my current children are with a wonderful foster family 170 miles away. I visit them in person less than once a month but stay in contact with their various providers via e-mail and phone.
If you are looking for somewhere to volunteer your time, look into becoming a CASA volunteer. Check out National CASA’s website and see if this is something in which you might be interested. If you can’t volunteer your time, consider making a donation.