ST. JOSEPH PROBATE COURT
Court Appointed Special Advocate
What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)?
A CASA is a volunteer who advocates for children who are in the juvenile court system as a result of abuse and/or neglect. Volunteers investigate, negotiate, monitor and advocate for the best interest of the child. CASAs advise the St. Joseph County Probate Court by testifying at court hearings and by submitting thorough written reports. The reports include a factual history as well as recommendations for the child's case plan, including placement and treatment. The program has standing to file appropriate legal motions and request hearings on behalf of the child. CASAs participate in case conferences at the St. Joseph County Office of the Department of Child Services.
What is the CASA volunteer's role?
A CASA volunteer provides a judge with a carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child's future. Each home placement situation is as unique as the child involved. The CASA volunteer must determine if it is in a child's best interest to stay with his or her parents or guardians, be placed in foster care, or be freed for permanent adoption. The CASA volunteer makes placement and treatment recommendations to the judge and monitors the case until it is permanently resolved.
How does a CASA volunteer investigate a case?
To prepare a recommendation, the CASA volunteer meets with the child, parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers, and others who are knowledgeable about the child's history. The CASA volunteer also reviews all records pertaining to the child: school, medical, case worker reports, and other documents.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from the Department of Child Services Family Case Manager?
The DCS (Department of Child Services) Case Manager is employed by the government. They sometimes work on as many as 60 cases at one time, and are frequently unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation of each. A CASA volunteer has more time and a smaller caseload. The CASA volunteer does not replace a FCM (Family Case Manager) on a case; he or she is 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.
How does the role of a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney?
The CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation in the courtroom. That is the role of the attorney. However, the CASA volunteer does provide crucial background information that assists attorneys in presenting their cases.
Who is the "typical" CASA volunteer?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, with a variety of professional, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 75,000 CASA volunteers advocating for 290,000 children in the United States.
Program names within the CASA network include CASA, GAL, FOCAS, Pro-Kids, Voices for Children, Youth Advocacy Commission, Law & Child Protection Project, Child Advocates Youth Services, Children in Placement and Justice System Volunteer Program.
Locally, the CASA Program of St. Joseph County is administered by the St. Joseph Probate Court.
Can anyone be a CASA volunteer?
Yes. No specialized background is required. Volunteers are screened closely for objectivity, competence, and commitment. Indiana statute requires that volunteers be 21 years of age.
What training does a CASA volunteer receive?
CASA volunteers undergo a thorough training course conducted by the local CASA program. Locally, volunteers receive 35 hours of training offered by a variety of local professionals who contribute their training services to the program. Volunteers learn about courtroom procedure from the principals in the system: attorneys, social caseworkers, therapists and others. CASA volunteers also learn 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.
How does the CASA volunteer relate to the child he or she represents?
CASA volunteers offer children trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings. They explain to the child the events that are happening, the reason for court proceedings, and the roles that the judge, attorneys, and social workers play. CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinions and hopes.
How many cases on the average does a CASA volunteer carry at a time?
The number varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but an average caseload is one to two cases.
Do lawyers, judges, and social caseworkers support CASA?
Yes. Juvenile and family court judges implement the CASA program in their courtroom 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.
CASA is a priority project of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The office encourages the establishment of new CASA programs, assists established CASA programs and provides partial funding for the National CASA Association.
How many CASA Programs are there nationally?
There are now 940 CASA programs operating across the country, including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands..
How effective have CASA Programs been?
Studies indicate 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 who do not have CASA representation. Judges have observed that CASA children also have increased chances of finding permanent homes than non-CASA children.
How much time does a case require?
Each case is different. A CASA volunteer usually spends about 15 hours doing research and conducting interviews prior to the first court appearance. More complicated cases require more time. Once initiated into the system, volunteers work about 10-15 hours per month.
How long does a CASA volunteer remain involved with a case?
The volunteer continues until the case is permanently resolved. This is a primary benefit to the child because unlike other court principals who often rotate cases, the CASA volunteer is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for the child.
Are there any other agencies or groups which provide the same service?
No. There are other child advocacy organizations, but CASA is the only program through which volunteers are appointed by the court to represent a child's best interest.
What is the role of the National CASA Association?
The National CASA Association is a non-profit organization that represents and serves the local CASA programs. It provides training, technical assistance, research, news, and public awareness services to its members.
How is the program regarded locally?
"CASA volunteers serve as the eyes and ears of the Court. They are to be commended for their interest and dedication in advocating for children. Protecting the best interest of the child is the overriding concern of every CASA volunteer."
-The Honorable Peter J. Nemeth
Judge, St. Joseph Probate Court
Following a CASA's assignment to a sibling group, the children moved from St. Joseph to Marshall County. At that time Marshall County was without a CASA Program, so the Marshall County judge requested that the CASA continue to advocate for the children. The court responded with the following: "The CASA's services are very much needed for the welfare of these children. Thank you for your dedication to these children. I can certainly understand why you want the CASA back in St. Joseph County to be reassigned to another family. She has done an outstanding job and certainly has the children's interest at heart."
-The Honorable Michael D. Cook
Judge, Marshall Circuit Court
LOCAL FACTS: - During 2004 the local program was served by 100 volunteers. In 2004 CASA Volunteers contributed over 10,000 hours and served over 250 children. Locally the CASA Program of St. Joseph County is administered by the St. Joseph County Probate Court.
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