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CASA: A Voice for Abused and Neglected Children

 “There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.”

— Kofi Annan


CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. The children CASA serves often find themselves overwhelmed by the complex and challenging world of the child welfare system. They must navigate various legal proceedings, each a reminder of their uncertain futures. CASA volunteers champion these children, actively ensuring their voices are heard and their needs are met.


What is CASA?

CASA is a nationwide network of local programs, each operating independently but united by a shared mission. These programs recruit, train, and supervise volunteers whom Family Court judges appoint to serve as independent advocates for children in Court. These CASA volunteers are usually not attorneys or social workers (although they might be) but are everyday citizens from all walks of life committed to making a difference in the lives of children.

CASA’s Origins and Value in Judicial Decisions

CASA emerged from a need for independent voices that would represent the best interests of children involved in the complex and challenging world of the child welfare system. Its roots trace back to 1977 when Judge David Soukup of Seattle Juvenile Court recognized the limitations of making informed decisions about children’s lives solely based on the information presented by attorneys and social workers. He envisioned a neutral party with no vested interest in the outcome, someone who could spend time with the child, gather information from various sources, and advocate solely for the child’s well-being.

Judges value the information CASA volunteers provide for many reasons:

1. Independence and Objectivity: Most parties involved in a Family Court proceeding have specific agendas. CASA volunteers, on the other hand, have none. They are independent advocates with one mission – advocating for the child’s best interests. This objectivity offers judges a neutral perspective, helping them navigate the often conflicting narratives presented in child welfare cases.

2. Comprehensive Information Gathering: CASA volunteers conduct in-depth investigations. They gather information from the child, parents, family members, foster parents, teachers, social workers, therapists, and other relevant individuals. While other parties, such as social workers and attorneys ad litem, can do the same, large caseloads often overwhelm them. A CASA volunteer is uniquely positioned to deal with just one case and can focus much more on it. This comprehensive understanding of the child’s situation gives judges a much better picture than any other source.

3. Child-Centered Perspective: CASA volunteers spend significant time with the child, building trust and rapport, allowing them to understand the child’s unique needs, desires, and fears, and providing judges with invaluable insights beyond the legal and social aspects of the case.

4. Focus on Permanency: CASA volunteers advocate for safe and permanent homes for children. They monitor the progress of placements and parental compliance with court-ordered services, offering judges crucial feedback and prioritizing the child’s long-term well-being.

5. Bias Reduction: Judges, like all humans, are susceptible to unconscious biases. With their independent position and focus on the child’s best interests, CASA volunteers can help mitigate these biases by presenting a balanced and objective perspective.

Judges’ decisions in child welfare cases have profound and lasting consequences that influence every aspect of the child’s future. Therefore, they must have access to comprehensive, unbiased information. Through their dedicated efforts and objective approach, CASA volunteers provide judges with the crucial information to make well-informed decisions that genuinely serve the children’s best interests.

Here are some additional points to consider:

  • Stakeholder Biases: Various stakeholders in child welfare cases may have biases influencing their perspectives. For example, social workers may hold one opinion about reunifying the child and parents, while attorneys may have another, focusing solely on protecting their client’s legal rights. With their singular focus on the child’s best interests, CASA volunteers can help counteract these biases and ensure the child’s voice is heard.
  • CASA’s Training and Ethics: CASA volunteers undergo extensive training to equip them with the knowledge and skills to advocate for children effectively. They are also bound by a strict code of ethics emphasizing objectivity, confidentiality, and cultural sensitivity, thus ensuring the information they present to judges is accurate, reliable, and unbiased.
  • Collaboration with Other Parties: While CASA volunteers are independent advocates, they also collaborate with other professionals involved in the child’s case. This collaborative approach helps ensure that all parties are working towards the same goal: the child’s best interests.

In summary, CASA is vital in ensuring judges have the information they need to make informed decisions about children’s lives. By providing a neutral, child-centered perspective and advocating for their best interests, CASA volunteers help ensure that children receive the care and support they need to thrive.

How does CASA work?

CASA volunteers undergo an extensive process before being assigned to a case. To become a CASA volunteer, one must undergo a comprehensive process that includes:

1. Attending a Detailed Information Session: This first step provides would-be volunteers with a detailed understanding of a CASA’s role and responsibilities. Given the serious nature of what a CASA does and the fact that each volunteer is asked to stay with their case through its entire lifecycle, typically 12 – 18 months, these sessions are vital in helping applicants understand what they are getting into.

2. Application Submission: Interested individuals submit a formal application that summarizes their backgrounds and includes written essays designed to explore the applicant’s views on parenting, cultural diversity, and more.

3. Screening Process: The screening involves a lengthy interview with a program manager that can get quite personal, a thorough background check, and fingerprinting – all crucial for roles involving children.

4. Training: CASA volunteers receive as much as 40 hours of classroom training (and at least that much more at home) designed to give them the tools necessary to advocate for children effectively.

5. Induction: Finally, they go to Court, formally sworn in by a judge, marking the volunteer’s readiness to handle cases.

Once assigned to an individual case, they spend up to 20 hours each month investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding the child’s situation. Their Supervisor offers ongoing support and works closely with them throughout the case. This investigation includes:

Meeting with the child: CASA volunteers visit with the child once or twice a month. During these visits, they learn about the child’s needs, wishes, and fears. They observe current living conditions and see how the child adapts to significant changes in their lives – such as living in a strange home, changing schools, and leaving friends behind. They build rapport and trust with the child and create a safe space for them to share their experiences. 

Gathering information: CASA volunteers interview the child’s parents, foster parents, social workers, teachers, physicians, therapists, and others involved in the child’s life. They collect and analyze information from many directions to get the most comprehensive view possible.

Reviewing records: By order of the Court, CASA volunteers can access confidential records, including court documents, medical charts, and social worker reports. This level of access gives them a comprehensive view of the child’s adjustment and current status.

Advocating in Court: CASA volunteers submit a very detailed and formally structured report to the Court before every proceeding. The report gives the Judge up-to-date information about every aspect of the case. The report includes:

Detailed portrayal of the child’s adjustment to their current placement. This information includes the status of the child’s relationship with their caregivers, physical and emotional state, progress in school, relationships with friends and others, and more.

  • Details about the child’s current medical and dental status.
  • Details about visitation with natural parents, if applicable. How often are the visits? Does the parent attend? How does the child react afterward?
  • Details about parents and significant kin include the status of court-ordered treatment plans for parents or other caregivers.
  • A detailed summary followed by recommendations. This last section is the only time a CASA steps out of their fact-finding role and offers personal recommendations.

CASA’s Impact:

CASA’s work has a profound impact on the lives of children. Studies have shown that children with CASA advocates:

  • Spend less time in foster care
  • Are more likely to be placed in safe and permanent homes
  • Are more likely to do well in school
  • Are less likely to be abused or neglected again in the future


CASA plays a vital role in ensuring that the voices of abused and neglected children are heard. By advocating for their best interests, CASA volunteers help children heal from trauma, achieve permanency, and build brighter futures. If you want to make a difference in a child’s life, consider becoming a CASA volunteer.




  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453

This article appeared first on https://glenngilchrist.com

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