Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are appointed by judges in Family Courts to be unbiased advocates for a child’s best interests in child abuse and neglect cases.

CASA advocates work hard to provide each kid individualized attention, guiding them through what may otherwise be a stressful, unpredictable, and alienating experience.

Court Appointed Special Advocates work in many ways to learn valuable information about the child they have been appointed to advocate for, and assist the child in a plan for a brighter future. A Court Appointed Special Advocates may:

  • Meet with the child, family members, foster parents, and service providers of the child
  • Review reports that have been submitted about the kid and the family circumstances with the child, family members, foster parents, and service providers.
  • Compile current and thorough information regarding the child’s health, safety, well-being, and permanency plans
  • Track the implementation of court-ordered service and visitation arrangements

Court Appointed Special Advocates work in partnership with legal, social service, and therapy experts to help children in the child welfare system find or keep secure, stable, permanent families.

CASA assists the overloaded Family Court system in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable children. A Court Appointed Special Advocate is assigned to a case by a Family Court Judge when they are concerned that a child is at risk of “falling through the cracks” because their needs are not being met while in foster care, or they are at risk of aging out of foster care without housing, an income, or the services they need to live independently.

How can a Court Appointed Special Advocate assist a child in need?

Assisting a child in need is a collaborative effort, and the CASA is an instrumental part of assisting the child in navigating an otherwise overwhelming and frightening system. There are many stages to the assistance that a Court Appointed Special Advocate can provide, from the initial intake through adulthood.

The Court Appointed Special Advocate will first wish for a complete assessment of the situation so that they have a clear, unbiased view of the child in relation to the world around them Children, parents, and family members, foster parents and foster care agencies, attorneys, educators, and service providers collaborate with advocates to establish a comprehensive assessment of each child’s needs.

There are many different services available to children in need. Often there are so many that it is difficult to determine which will be most effective in assisting the child, and navigating the requirements of each can be burdensome. The Court Appointed Special Advocate will seek to put services in place, including special needs services, cut through red tape, and make it easier for children to go through the system as soon as possible.

Court hearings can be especially difficult for children, and quite frankly life changing, as decisions are made by family court judges which will affect every aspect of a child’s life. Every court hearing is attended by advocates, who give judges with extensive, fact-based court reports that provide a holistic picture of the children’s needs and circumstances, ensuring that each family’s situation is examined on a case-by-case basis.

The landscape of available programs and options changes dramatically as a child ages up and out of the systems they were a part of when under 18 years of age. Court Appointed Special Advocate will make sure that young people who have aged out of the system have a place to live, a source of income, a job or educational program – such as SEMP (Supported Employment Services), and access to the support they require to live independently.

In a system where caseworkers, attorneys, and even foster parents change regularly, Court Appointed Special Advocates are typically the most continuous presence in the life of a child in foster care.

How are Court Appointed Special Advocate selected?

Court Appointed Special Advocates are a varied group of people who join together for the singular goal of advocating for children. Each Court Appointed Special Advocate:

  • Participate in a 35-hour pre-service training after acceptance into the Court Appointed Special Advocates program. Acceptance requires an application along with personal and professional references, interviews, and extensive criminal and child abuse background checks.
  • Review reports that have been submitted about the kid and the family circumstances with the child, family members, foster parents, and service providers.
  • Is assigned to a supervisor who is a masters-level child welfare professional or attorney. This professional will guide and oversee the work of the Court Appointed Special Advocates.
  • Takes an oath of confidentiality and is sworn in by a family court judge. They will also observe court proceedings before being assigned their own case, in order to gain familiarity over court proceedings.
  • Conducts an assessment of each child’s needs and best interests following their assignment from a family court judge. This assessment becomes part of the child’s records, and will help the Court Appointed Special Advocate to provide unbiased advocacy for their assigned child.
  • Collaborate with case workers, family members, and attorneys, always with the intention of achieving that which is in the best interests of the child.
  • Reports to the court at each hearing to provide critical information to help judges make informed decisions. These reports are instrumental in assisting the judge in making sound decisions, as the Court Appointed Special Advocate has much more personal contact with the child and family than the judge is able to have on their own.
  • Assist children and families in obtaining necessary services such as physical or mental health treatment, substance addiction counseling, or special education. This advocacy and assistance may continue on until the child has reached adulthood.
  • Keeps track of each child’s status to ensure their safety. The Court Appointed Special Advocate is often the person with whom the child has the most and most consistent contact over time, and their presence in the life of the child can mean the difference between a child getting lost in the system to one achieving the goal of a stable, safe, and secure home life.

Additionally, Court Appointed Special Advocates attend a minimum of 12 hours of in-service training per year, meet with their supervisor at least once a month, attend court hearings as needed to make reports to the judge (twice a year or more), and keep complete case notes on their assigned child.