What a CASA Does
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a program that enlists citizen volunteers to champion the needs of abused and neglected children who are unsafe at home and must live temporarily under the jurisdiction of the courts and the supervision of a county child welfare system. CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, but they share a concern about the children in their communities and a personal commitment to help. CASA volunteers work for judges; they are the only volunteers empowered under Wisconsin law to serve as sworn “Friends of the Court.” Trained and supervised by professional staff and appointed by a judge to serve one child of a family of children, CASA volunteers usually serve for the duration of their assigned child’s time in the child welfare system. By getting to know the children and communicating important information to the judges overseeing their futures, CASA volunteers ensure that public and private systems are effectively responsive to children’s needs.
CASA volunteers are currently serving children in eleven Wisconsin Counties through eight, independently-operated CASA programs.
What is the Wisconsin CASA Association?
The Wisconsin Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association is a charitable, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and championing the needs of abused and neglected children. As a member of the National CASA Association network, our mission is to support quality volunteer advocacy for kids who are living under the protection of the courts and child welfare agency until they can be safe at home – or until a safe and permanent home is found for them. Our goals are to strengthen and expand a statewide network of CASA programs that serve all Wisconsin children who need advocates, and to advance public policy and practice that supports the best outcomes for kids.
The Association does not itself provide direct services to children; our role is to support Wisconsin’s seven local CASA programs, encourage program expansion, and support the start-up of new programs. We do that by cultivating resources, working to improve systems collaboration, and by advocating for enlightened public policy that advances the safety, permanence and well being of Wisconsin’s children.
What do CASA volunteers do?
Each CASA volunteer conducts regular, face-to-face visits with their assigned child (or children) and makes independent, objective observations about how each child is coping, growing, interacting with others and responding to services and the environment. In addition to regular (usually weekly) and in-person contact with their assigned children, CASA volunteers have proactive contact with children’s parents and primary caregivers, siblings, extended family members and foster parents. They talk with teachers and counselors (or daycare and Head Start providers) to monitor the children’s educational progress and social development. CASA volunteers may also contact health and mental health care providers and review related records that are relevant to children’s health and well-being. They work in the best interests of the children they serve.
Monthly (or as requested by the court), CASA volunteers consolidate factual information into a written summary and submit it to the court. CASA volunteers also communicate the child’s wishes to the court, including what that child desires as an outcome of court intervention, and his or her concerns and hopes for the future. They may also make recommendations to the court that they believe will benefit the child. Research shows that CASA volunteers strengthen outcomes for children; they enhance child safety, reduce the time kids spend in foster care and improve the services kids receive.
How does CASA ensure quality services to kids?
Wisconsin’s CASA programs are members of the National CASA Association and must follow national training, protocols and standards. All CASA volunteers are recruited, screened, trained and supervised by professional staff. Applicants are interviewed and must pass a criminal background check; approved volunteers must participate in 30 hours of National CASA training before they are eligible to be sworn in for service. To retain their certified status, each is required to have a minimum of 12 hours annual continuing education and training. CASA staff reviews and approves all volunteer reports before submission to the court; this helps ensure the contents of the report are clear, objective and meet the judge’s requirements and expectations. It also ensures that any recommendations or information of a subjective nature are appropriately labeled as such. CASA volunteers respect confidentiality and adhere to statutory requirements related to maintaining and protecting the confidentiality of child victims of crime. Though CASA volunteers gather information from a fairly wide circle of sources, they are bound by confidentiality laws and ethics. They share case information and observations only with specified individuals that include their CASA supervisor, the child’s CPS caseworker, the judge, and persons who are legally parties to the case.
All CASA programs must participate in a thorough self-assessment process every four years. Compliance with National CASA Association standards is required to maintain CASA membership status, and CASA staff must address any areas of non-compliance within a prescribed timeline.