What is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of McLennan and Hill Counties?
CASA of McLennan and Hill Counties recruits, trains and supervises volunteer advocates to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children in foster care. CASA is part of a nationwide organization of Court Appointed Special Advocates with 951 chapters in 49 states, and more than 75,000 volunteers. CASA of McLennan and Hill Counties was established in 1994 and serves McLennan and Hill Counties.
What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)?
A Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, is appointed by a judge to be an independent voice in court for an abused and neglected child.
What is CASA’s role?
The CASA provides the judge with a carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about the child’s future. The advocate must determine if it is in the best interest of the child to live with the parent(s), be placed with relatives, remain in foster care, or be freed for permanent adoption. The advocate makes a recommendation about placement to the court, and follows through until the case is permanently resolved.
The role of the advocate is to:
- be a fact-finder for the judge
- speak for the child in court, representing the child’s best interest
- act as a “watchdog” for the child during the life of the case, ensuring that the child’s needs are met and the case is resolved swiftly and appropriately.
How does an Advocate investigate a case?
Advocates talk with the child, parents, foster parents, caretakers, family members, caseworkers, school officials, health providers, therapists, and others who are knowledgeable about the child’s history. Advocates review school, medical caseworker reports and other documents regarding the child during the year the child is in foster care.
Is there a “typical” CASA?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, representing a variety of ethnic, educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Some of our advocates are employed full-time, some are college students and some are retired. All of our advocates have in common one essential belief –that children deserve a safe and permanent home. Advocates must be at least 21 years of age and pass a background check. They must have at least a high school diploma, valid driver’s license, good driving record, proof of automobile insurance, reliable transportation, and the ability to be both compassionate and objective.
How does CASA relate to the child?
The CASA explains to the child the events that are happening, why they are in foster care, and the roles that the judge, attorney, and caseworkers play. Advocates offer the children what no one else can: consistency and continuity in the midst of all the chaos the children are experiencing. In the course of a typical case, the child will experience several foster placements, new school, and caseworker turnover but only ONE Advocate.
How much time does being an Advocate take?
Each case is different, of course, but most cases require going to court 3 or 4 times during a one to one-and-a-half year period to present a report with recommendations to the judge. More time is spent on a case when it is first assigned, as this is the more intensive fact-finding stage. As the case moves toward resolution, cases require less time. On average, an advocate donates about 15 to 20 hours per month.
How do the legal and child welfare systems view CASA?
CASA has been endorsed the 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. CASA is described as “the eyes and ears of the judge,” and frequently acts as the “the arm and legs” of an overworked child protective system.
Which children are assigned CASAs?
Children who have been abused and neglected and have become wards of the court are assigned a CASA. Our counties (McLennan and Hill) are unique in that there is a specific court established to hear the Child Protection Docket exclusively. Our goal is to provide an advocate to every child who needs one.
Where does CASA receive its financial support?
CASA is funded by the United Way, Texas CASA (our state organization), a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant, and the generosity of several private foundations, corporate sponsors, and individual donors. The Cooper Foundation as needed, and a variety of additional local and regional private foundations and local corporations. We also raise funds via special events each year such as our Crawfish for CASA that includes live music and live and silent auctions. Finally, CASA receives support from a number of generous individuals and civic organizations.
What training does an Advocate receive?
CASA of McLennan and Hill Counties trainings are held in a class room setting as well as an independent study format. The free, 32-hour course provides advocates with an overview of courtroom procedure from judges, lawyers and caseworkers. Advocates are also educated about specific topics ranging from symptoms and effects of abuse and neglect to early childhood development and cultural diversity.