What to know about CASA
I want to tell you about a man. “Joe” [not his real name] was starting to feel like he needed to do more, give more to his community. He has a great life: job at one of the manufacturing plants in town, a son in high school, lovely wife, friends, and home. He just knew in his heart he could be helping someone and knew there were lots of organizations that needed the help. One day his son mentioned a classmate who had told him about being a foster child. This classmate had spoken about moving to a new foster home-his third in five years and how tough it was to move again but he was hoping it was his last since it looked like his mom and dad had done what the judge had told them to do. His dad wasn’t going to hurt him again and Mom was done drinking. That talk reminded Joe of a video he’d seen recently about volunteers needed to become advocates for CASA. He remembered that the CASA volunteers help foster kids. He decided that would be a great way to give back, to help someone.
“Joe” called the number he had written down from the CASA video he’d seen. This is what he learned: CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Appointed by family court judges, CASA volunteers typically handle one case at a time then remain on the case until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. There are CASA volunteers all over the country in almost every state. Most importantly: he learned that there is a local organization in his county: CASA Connection.
CASA Connection serves Platte and Colfax counties and is part of a nationwide program affiliated with the Nebraska CASA Association and the National CASA Association. As an advocate, volunteers receive in-depth training and continued support. They report to the court in the best interest of the child and are considered the voice of the child who has been removed from their home due to abuse or neglect.
The requirements to be a volunteer are simple: You must be at least 21, able to pass a background check, provide references and participate in an interview. No special background or education is required. CASA volunteers complete 30 hours of pre-service training which is provided by CASA Connection staff and set around the volunteers’ schedule. Once training is completed, they are then sworn in by the juvenile court judge before being assigned to a case. Once they are assigned, they can expect to spend an average of 6-10 hours a month working on the case. Volunteers will get to know the child, gathering information, exploring resources to meet the child’s needs and writing reports with recommendations. These reports are written to the legal team prior to disposition and review hearings of the case. Volunteers receive ongoing education and support from their local program as well as from the State and National CASA Associations.
Children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect need caring adults willing to be their voice and advocate for them. Other people may come and go in the child’s life, but CASA volunteers provide a constant presence the child needs to help them move through this difficult and sometimes scary time in their lives. In many cases the CASA volunteer may be the only constant figure in these kids’ lives during their time in foster care. CASA volunteers bring three critical qualities to their work: they focus on one case at a time; they bring a unique perspective to the court case; and their sole objective is representing the best interests of the child.
“Joe” contacted the CASA Connection office, applied and got accepted. He went through the training and was sworn in by the local juvenile court judge with other new volunteers. A few weeks after being given his first case he stopped by the CASA Connection office to drop something off. While there he told Susie and Lisa how glad he was that he had listened to his heart because now it was full because he really was making a difference for a child and his community. To learn how YOU could become like Joe contact Susie or Lisa at CASA Connection at 402-563-4944 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers from all backgrounds are needed and welcomed. We especially need men -- oftentimes, children in foster care do not have a reliable father figure or positive male role model in their lives. Bilingual volunteers are also needed. They are vital in helping to communicate in Spanish with Hispanic/Latino children and families when necessary as interpreters are not always available.
Lisa Rosendahl is the outreach coordinator for CASA Connection.