Frequently Asked QuestionsWhat is CASA?
CASA is an acronym that stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). A CASA volunteer is a trained individual who is appointed by a judge, in our case the Honorable Judge Barry Tatum, to represent the best interest of a child in court. Children helped by CASA volunteers include those who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. These children may reside in a foster home, a group home, or with relatives.
What is the role of the CASA volunteer?
A CASA volunteer provides the Court with a carefully researched, fact based report (each time there is a hearing) on the child and their circumstances to help the court make a sound decision about the child's future. Each case is as unique as the child involved. The CASA volunteer makes recommendations to the Court regarding the child's permanent placement, the child's needs and wishes, and a variety of other issues. The CASA report is tailored to each child and his/her unique situation. The CASA volunteer monitors the case until it is permanently resolved. The case may take months or years.
How does a CASA volunteer investigate a case?
In order to make a recommendation, the CASA volunteer spends time with the child and talks with parents, family members, and others such as teachers, doctors, counselors, etc. who are knowledgeable about the child's history and circumstances. The CASA volunteer gathers information from these named individuals, as well as any other person having pertinent information. CASA volunteers are given a court order granting them access to the professionals and their records. The volunteer holds this information in the strictest confidence.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from a social service caseworker or DCS?
Social workers generally work for the State. In Tennessee they work for the Department of Children's Services (DCS) and they are called Family Service Workers. They sometimes work on as many as 20 cases at one time. The CASA volunteer has more time and a smaller caseload, typically no more than two cases at one time. The CASA volunteer does not replace the Family Service Worker; rather they act as an independent appointee of the court. The CASA volunteer can thoroughly examine a child's case, has knowledge of community resources, and can make a recommendation to the court, independent of state agency restrictions. CASA does not provide direct services such as transportation or supervising a visitation but can assist families in locating these resources.
How does the role of a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney?
The CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation or advice. The CASA volunteer does provide crucial background information that assists attorneys in presenting their cases. In Tennessee, children who come into foster care as a result of abuse or neglect will have an attorney, a Guardian ad Litem, appointed by the Court to represent his/her best interests. The CASA volunteer works alongside the Guardian ad Litem, as well as other participants in a case. TCA 37-1-149 outlines the guidelines for appointment of a special advocate.
How many CASA programs are there?
Since its creation in 1977, CASA has had a dramatic impact on the nation's court system. There are over 950 CASA programs across 49 states. Currently, Tennessee has 46 counties with an operating CASA program.
Is there a "typical" CASA volunteer?
CASA volunteers are ordinary citizens from all walks of life, representing a variety of backgrounds. One does not have to be an attorney or know anything about the law in order to become a CASA volunteer. There are more than 60,000 CASA volunteers across the country. In Wilson and Smith Counties there are approximately 50 volunteers at any given time. Being a CASA volunteer is very flexible, so it is appealing to busy people who need volunteer work to fit into their schedules. To read National CASA's Annual Local Program Survey Report, which speaks about volunteer demographics, click here.
What training does a CASA volunteer receive?
CASA volunteers undergo a thorough training course produced by the National CASA Association. It is led by the staff here at Wilson County CASA. An average training session involves approximately 30 hours. Volunteers learn about courtroom procedure, effective advocacy techniques for children and are educated about specific topics, ranging from seminars on child sexual abuse to discussions on early childhood development and adolescent behavior.
Do attorneys, judges, and social caseworkers support CASA?
Yes. Juvenile and family court judges implement the CASA program in their courtrooms and appoint the volunteers. CASA has been endorsed by the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators. In Wilson County, the CASA program is highly regarded. To find out more about how judges see the CASA program, click here.
How effective have CASA programs been?
Recently, the National CASA Association commissioned a study regarding the effectiveness of CASA programs. Findings show that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time within the foster care system than those without CASA representation do. To read more about the findings, click here.
How much time does it require to be a volunteer?
Each case is different. A CASA volunteer usually spends about 10 hours doing research and conducting interviews, and writing reports. More complicated cases take longer. In 2013, 73 Wilson County CASA volunteers contributed just over 2,800 hours of their time.
Will I be safe?
Yes. CASA volunteers are often seen as an ally and most everyone is on his/her best behavior around a volunteer. As with any volunteer opportunity though, volunteers are encouraged to use common sense when visiting and gathering information. Safety tips are discussed at length during training.