Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children
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CASA is a national non-profit organization that was developed in 1976 by Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, WA. Judge Soukup felt that children who were victims of abuse and neglect needed someone to represent them and be their voice in court. Judge Soukup realized the often these children also become victims of this country’s overburdened child welfare system, a complex legal network of lawyers, social workers and judges who frequently are too busy to give through, detailed attention to each child who comes before them. Many times the victims, who are children, are lost in the overloaded child welfare system that cannot pay close attention to each child whose life is in its hands. Sometimes a child can remain adrift in foster care for months, even years.
That’s where CASA comes in.
CASA volunteers are Court Appointed Special Advocates for children. They are community volunteers who undergo extensive training and are appointed by a judge to speak up for abused and neglected children in court. They become the voice of the child within the judicial system. It has been proven that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time within the foster care system than those who do not have CASA representation. These CASA children also have better chances of finding permanent homes than non-CASA Children.
The Clay County CASA Program was established in Clay County in 1983. Currently the Clay County CASA Program is one of 22 active programs within the state of Missouri. The Clay County has over 85 volunteers who have gone through training and are currently involved in an active case.
Community volunteers appointed by the court to advocate in the best interest of abused/neglected children in Clay County, Missouri, and affirm their right to a safe and permanent home.
What does a C.A.S.A volunteer do?
CASA volunteers are men and women who want to help abused and neglected children in their community. They work for the judge, alongside attorneys, social workers, and the Juvenile Office as appointed officers of the Court. The CASA is required to do their own investigation of the case independent of Children's Division and the Juvenile Office.
The CASA concept is based on the commitment that every child has the right to a safe permanent home. CASA's are assigned to children who are victims of abuse and neglect. By handling only one or two cases at a time (compared to a social agency caseworker's average load of 60-90) the CASA volunteer has the time to explore thoroughly the history or each child they are assigned. The volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, neighbors, school officials, doctors and others involved in the child's background who might have facts about the case. The CASA volunteer then reviews all records and documents pertaining to the child. He or she then submits a formal report to the court-recommending placement: should the child stay with his or her parents, be placed in foster care, residential care, or be freed for permanent adoption.
Can I become a C.A.S.A volunteer?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life. They have a variety of professional, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. No special experience is required. Volunteers are selected on the basis of their objectivity, competence, and commitment. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age.
Once accepted, volunteers are trained. They learn about courtroom procedure, the social service and juvenile court systems, and the special needs of children who have been abused and neglected.
Each case is different. A CASA volunteer usually spends about 10-15 hours doing research and conducting interviews prior to the first court appearance. More complicated cases may take longer. Once a child has been made a ward of the court, volunteers are required to make monthly contact with the child.
What happens when a child is taken into protective custody
A Hotline call or a report is received of an alleged situation where there is possible abuse and neglect.
The Children's Division responds to the Hotline call and investigates the circumstances. They may involve the local police, Deputy Juvenile Officer, or a physician in their investigation. A police officer, Deputy Juvenile Officer, or physician can make the decision whether or not the child is in need of immediate protection. This is when temporary custody of the child is taken. The Juvenile Officer is notified of the situation and the child is placed in foster home care, residential care, or with an appropriate relative or appropriate friend of the family.
A Protective Custody Hearing is generally held, excluding weekends/holidays, within the first 72 hours the child is taken into custody. At this hearing a petition would be presented stating the allegations and the Juvenile Judge decides if there is enough evidence to hold a child until an adjudication/disposition hearing can be held.
At the time the Probable Cause Hearing is held, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) will be appointed by the Juvenile Judge to conduct an independent investigation to further represent the "best interest of the child".
If the Judge determines that the child needs to be protected, the child will remain in the protective custody of the Juvenile Court, pending a full hearing on the petition. A further investigation is conducted by the Deputy Juvenile Officer to gather evidence to substantiate the allegations of the petition in the interest of the child.
At the adjudication/disposition hearing the Judge of the Juvenile Court considers all evidence and makes the final decision about what should happen concerning the child. (If the allegations of the petition are found true, the Judge will take jurisdiction and make the child a ward of the Court until 17 years of age and then determines the best placement of the child.)
If the child does not return home to the parents, then the Children's Division, CASA and Deputy Juvenile Officer will work with the parents to develop a Written Service Agreement. This agreement contains a list of items the parents must complete (i.e. counseling, parenting classes, anger control classes, drug/alcohol rehabilitation, stable housing and employment, etc.) to be reunited with their child and have the child return home. If the parent completes the Written Service Agreement, efforts are made to send the child home before 17 years of age. Periodic court reviews will be held on each case.
After a reasonable amount of time if the parents have not made progress through the services offered to them and the child has not returned home, a petition may be filed to terminate their parental rights and adoption of the children could then be considered.
When a CASA volunteer is appointed to a child's case, he or she is responsible for taking the time to find out as much as possible about that child. CASA volunteers search for information. They review records, interview parents, talk to teachers, neighbors, and most importantly, the child. The CASA volunteer appointed to a child's case must visit the child at least once per month. The CASA volunteer then appears in court to recommend to the Judge what's best for that child's future.