Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers help to break the cycles of violence and poverty that can plague these families. Having a CASA volunteer can make the difference between a child dropping out or completing school, between homelessness or a safe place to live, between unemployment or success, or between going to jail or being a productive member of society.
The CASA volunteer is actively involved in identifying and advocating for the services that should be provided to the family to enable them to care for their children, and is the only person involved whose sole focus is the child's best interest. The CASA volunteer believes that the best place for the child is with parents or other family members, if at all possible. It is critical to identify and build on the strengths of the child and family. If, after appropriate services have been provided to the family for a reasonable amount of time, the parents still cannot adequately care for their child, then it is in the child's best interest that alternatives such as guardianship or adoption be aggressively pursued in order to meet the child’s need for a safe, permanent home.
What does having a CASA volunteer mean to an abused child? Imagine what it would be like to lose your parents, not because of something you did, but because they can’t – or won’t – take care of you. Now, into your life come dozens of strangers: police, foster parents, social workers, therapists, judges, lawyers, and more. Having a CASA volunteer means having by your side a trained and committed adult who has been appointed by the judge to watch over and advocate for your best interests. That volunteer will ensure that you don’t get lost in an overburdened legal and social service system or languish in an inappropriate group home or foster home. They will be there for you until you have found a ‘forever family’.
The mission of Advocates for Children is to utilize volunteer advocates who will ensure that vulnerable children are placed in safe, legally permanent, and loving homes as quickly as possible so that they may thrive. This will enable these children to grow into emotionally and physically healthy adults, and to become productive members of the community.
The volunteer model of providing advocates for abused and neglected children is endorsed by the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice. Within Indiana, the volunteer model is endorsed by the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana Juvenile Judges Association.
The problems faced by these children and families are always complex and multiple. It is common for Advocates for Children to be appointed to cases with multiple legal issues as well as multiple diagnoses of family members (personality disorders, addiction issues, etc.) and other social service issues (poverty, housing problems, inability to maintain employment, etc.). The CASA volunteer is often the thread that pulls the many service providers involved together, by requesting frequent case conferences and encouraging and demonstrating open, clear, and frequent communication.
CASA volunteers provide roughly 18,000 hours of volunteer advocacy per year, which, using a conservative estimate of $75 per hour, saves in excess of $675,000 which otherwise would be paid to attorneys, for just half the hours donated by our advocates. The continued successful recruitment, training, supervision, and retention of volunteers in all counties will enable the program to serve more children more effectively.