A CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is a trained and dedicated community volunteer assigned to lift the voice of a youth in the DC Foster Care system. Through this core program, CASA volunteers are assigned to work with children who have open abuse and neglect cases in the DC Family Court. The children range in age from infant to 21 and have a broad range of needs. CASA volunteers are appointed and sworn in by judges in order to fully investigate a youth’s circumstances and advocate for what is in the youth’s best interest. While teachers, therapists and other professionals come and go, the CASA provides a constant support for the youth to count on in order to thrive.
For an abused or neglected youth, a CASA is a caring adult in their corner making sure their voice is heard. For volunteers, being a CASA is a way to create a long-term, meaningful impact locally.
Responsibilities of a CASA Volunteer:
- Complete training: All volunteers must complete 30 hours of pre-service training, which provides an overview of the foster care system in DC as well as what to expect when working with a youth who has been abused or neglected. In addition, volunteers must complete 12 hours of in-service training annually.
- Build a relationship: Visit the child twice a month. Your visits can be anything ranging from bike riding, to volunteering together at an animal shelter, to working on college applications
- Gather information: Review documents and records, interview the child, family, and professionals in the child’s life
- Document findings: Write a court report for each hearing
- Attend court hearings: Appear at the youth’s hearings and provide testimony when necessary. Hearings are roughly 30 minutes and occur every 3-4 months during the day on weekdays.
- Explain what is going on: Help the youth understand the court proceedings
- “Be the glue”: Seek cooperative solutions among individuals and organizations involved in the children’s lives. As one volunteer said: Be the glue that connects the pieces in a complicated child welfare system.
- Recommend services: Ensure that the children and their family are receiving appropriate services and advocate for those that are not immediately available. Bring concerns about the child’s health, education, mental health, etc. to the appropriate professionals.
- Monitor case plans and court orders: Check to see that plans are being followed and mandated review hearings are being held.
- Keep the court informed: Update the court on developments with agencies and family members. Ensure that appropriate motions are filed on behalf of the child so the court knows about any changes in the child’s situation.
CASAs spend an average of 10 hours a month working on their case. While volunteers are required to serve one year, we hope that each CASA volunteers will remain on their case until it is closed.
Within the standard CASA program outlined above, here at CASA DC we have 4 additional focus areas targeted to meet the needs of specific populations.
Family Treatment Court (FTC)
Family Treatment Court was created in 2003 as a collaboration between Family Court and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth, Families, and Elders. It is a voluntary residential substance abuse treatment program for parents with an open neglect case.
Preparing Youth for Adulthood (PYA)
The PYA initiative was created in 2007 to better address the needs of youth transitioning from foster care into adulthood. The main goal of PYA is to improve the outcomes of youth who exit the foster system in areas such as homelessness and unemployment. This program empowers the youth from the start, allowing the youth the choice to join PYA, and includes the assignment of a CASA specially trained to work with older youth, casual meetings with their judge and hands-on budgeting and networking opportunities.
For more information, see our CASA PYA Brochure and view the presentation below.
Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM)
In January of 2015, CASA began working with Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) that are in care. For refugee minors, the State Department identifies children overseas who are eligible for resettlement in the United States, but do not have a parent or a relative available and committed to providing for their long-term care. Upon arrival in the U.S., these refugee children are placed into care and receive refugee foster care services and benefits. CASA volunteers that are assigned to a URM youth provide support, not only culturally, but in providing assistance in minimizing the daily stressors that may occur as they assimilate to living in the U.S. CASA volunteers provide their youth opportunities to practice their English as at times it may be difficult to express their worries and concerns. Through positive experiences CASA volunteers and their youth build a relationship that continues to grow as the young person adjusts to his or her new environment.
Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS)
Adolescents in the United States who violate age related legal requirements (such as attending school, running away, or being excessively disobedient), and whose transgression of civil conduct warns of forthcoming criminality, can be referred by schools, parents or criminal prosecutors to a judge for guidance and supervision. A formal petition is brought against a juvenile for a ‘‘status offense,’’ defined as behavior that would not constitute a crime if engaged by an adult. These adolescents, who in the judicial system are referred to as Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS), tend either to lack adequate parenting, or to have parents who themselves feel unable to moderate their children’s conduct (Source: Gur & Miller, 2004).
CASA for Children has begun working with youth who are in the PINS system. CASA volunteers work to improve social functioning and skills acquisition among these adolescents. During this time, volunteers provide guidance and stability and help bridge the gap between a youth’s home environment and open juvenile case.