A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a trained community volunteer who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of an abused or neglected child in court.
Over the past twenty five years, tens of thousands of CASA/GAL volunteers have served hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children. Judge David Soukup’s initial notion that volunteers are in the best position to most effectively and efficiently provide the advocacy so critical for our children in need has come to fruition.
The volunteer nature of our work is the very foundation on which the CASA program is built and is certainly one of the greatest strengths of our national network. Volunteers are in fact the heart of what we do for children.
“I joined CASA because it is my way of ‘paying it forward.’ We are the voice of the kids that didn’t ask or want to be in this situation. We state the facts of the case and the needs and wants of the kids.” Advocate Teresa Moyer, 2016.
In 1990 with the inclusion of the CASA Program in the Victims of Child Abuse Act, Congress affirmed the use of volunteers in our otherwise closed juvenile court systems and made provisions for the growth of our volunteer movement nationwide.
Why volunteers? By the very nature of their “volunteerism” they empower themselves through their commitment of time and energy. Volunteers generally work on only one or two cases at a time and their focus gives them the ability to see and do more on behalf of the child. They stay with the case from beginning to end and commit to the program for at least one year.
Volunteers are also independent of bureaucratic constraints that often keep those employed by our local institutions playing by rules that are outdated or often make less than common sense. Certainly CASA volunteers do not work in a vacuum. It takes the strong support and guidance of local program staff to facilitate their work. Careful screening, training, supervision, and retention are essential to assure high quality volunteer advocacy. Although paid staff play an integral role in the coordination and management of the program, the traditional role of staff does not include routinely working cases. One primary reason is cost-effectiveness. It is certainly more cost-effective to have one staff person coordinating 30 volunteers serving 75 children as opposed to one staff person carrying 25 cases with 60 children Still, cost-effectiveness is only a small component of our commitment to the use of volunteers.
Volunteers bring a much needed outside perspective to our court and child welfare systems. Their lack of past experience in the system not only brings a fresh perspective to what we do, it opens our doors to the community and helps raise public awareness of the plight of our community’s abused and neglected children.
To a child, having a volunteer working for them can make all the difference. Hundreds of children across the country have been moved when understanding the notion, “you don’t get paid to do this?” It shows to them the level of concern and commitment being made by the volunteer. No, it’s not part of their “job.” Volunteers are ordinary citizens, doing extraordinary work for children, and along the way bringing such passion, dedication, and effort to their work.
In 1988, CSR, Inc., under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published the results of a study entitled, National Evaluation of Guardians ad Litem in Child Abuse or Neglect Judicial Proceedings. After analyzing five types of GAL models the study found that:
“CASA volunteers are excellent investigators and mediators, remain involved in the case and fight for what they think is right for the child” The study concluded, “We give the CASA models our highest recommendation.”
In our over twenty-five year history, well-trained and supervised CASA/GAL volunteers have repeatedly demonstrated their competence in providing high quality advocacy for children. Volunteers are the very foundation on which our movement is built and remain the most effective and efficient mechanism to serve the greatest number of abused and children well.
It’s not for fortune, it’s not for fame,
It’s not to make for yourself a name.
It’s for the child frightened and alone,
Who’s just been taken from their home.
To lift the burdens that they bear,
To let them know that someone cares.
To be their voice, to be their friend,
To see them through to the very end.
It takes some time, some patience too,
And some of your tears before you’re all through.
It’s worth it though, when that day draws near,
And smiles replace the look of fear.
Though you may never see them once you part,
Your name will forever be carried in their heart.