Representing a child in court may be the most important thing you ever do. Learn the special skills and time required to make this big impact.
Volunteer work is not a new concept. The usual opportunities include packing grocery boxes at food banks, finding gifts for families in need during the holidays and walking or running in a free T-shirt to raise awareness about X, Y or Z disease. But many want to do more and want to give back in a way that will leave a lasting impact while seeing efforts. A viable solution may be improving young lives by volunteering with children and becoming Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) through CASA of Maricopa County.
But what does it truly take to be a CASA volunteer?
It Takes Dedication
More than 9,000 Maricopa County children are currently living in foster care after having been removed from abusive or neglectful situations. The Department of Child Services (DCS) case workers, counselors and guardian ad litems assigned to their cases often have large caseloads.
CASA volunteers, on the other hand, typically work one case at a time. They become a constant in a child’s life, getting to know the child and developing a trusting relationship with him or her. Advocates work closely with the child’s DCS case manager, family, teacher, counselor and other professionals involved in the child’s life to ensure child welfare by making recommendations to the court, helping to ensure the child’s educational, medical, emotional and developmental needs are being met.
It Takes Communication Skills
CASAs act as the judge’s eyes and ears throughout a case and report back to the court through written reports and oral testimony. Based on facts gathered through their communication with other professionals on the case, CASAs make recommendations to the judge about what’s in the best interest of the child. CASAs work to bring services to children in a timelier manner. They take in to account the needs expressed by the child and all professionals working the case to provide an objective report to the judge.
It Takes Time
The average child welfare case lasts 18 months, but some go on much longer and CASA volunteers are asked to see them through. After the initial 30-hour training program, CASAs spend an average of 15 to 20 hours a month working their cases — although that can vary depending on the complexity of the case and needs of the child. But that doesn’t mean being a CASA isn’t possible while working a full-time job or having other commitments. In fact, more than half of CASA volunteers are employed full-time.
Aside from biweekly visits with a CASA child and court appearances that are typically scheduled every three to six months and occasional meetings with other professionals, most advocacy work can be done through email or by phone.
Being a CASA volunteer takes more commitment than some other volunteer opportunities, but it’s worth it. Studies show when compared to children who are not represented by CASA volunteers, children with CASAs are:
- More likely to get the services they need in a timely manner
- Less likely to be moved from placement to placement
- More likely to do better in school
- Less likely to return to care after being reunited with their birth family
- More likely to spend less time in foster care overall
And those are outcomes that make a real difference.