Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are trained volunteers whose role is to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the Champaign County Juvenile Court system.
CASA Program Fundamentals
- Advocates are appointed to advocate for the long-term best interest of the child
- Advocates work with the professionals who aim in the direction of a court-ordered goal, but are expected to work in the best interest of the child.
- Advocates are appointed to conduct independent investigation and to monitor Court orders pertaining to the child
- Advocates must have facts to support their recommendations
Advocates keep in regular contact with the child and interested parties on the case
- Regular contact is interpreted to be at least monthly contact, preferably face-to-face, with the child. Attorneys, caseworkers, therapists, agency providers, teachers, and foster parents need to be contacted to keep updated on changes in the child’s situation. This contact should be often enough to build a relationship that will enable the advocate to keep abreast of the child’s situation. Because many cases involve unpredictable activity, regular contact in-person or by phone assumes a smooth flow of information.
- Advocates must be consistent in their contacts. Regular, timely contacts are much more credible and show a truer picture of the case than those contacts made just prior to the hearing.
Advocates must understand their limited role
- Meeting the child for a soda at a fast-food restaurant is a good way to provide a “neutral setting” for an older child to discuss feelings, concerns, and accomplishments, and for the advocate to obtain valuable information. Taking the child to the park or for a walk in order to have a relevant, private conversation is OK. Activities such as movies, shopping, etc., are beyond the scope of the advocate and are not appropriate.
- Advocates are not Big Brothers/Big Sisters, mentors, or family friends
- Advocates should not be spending time with the child on recreational outings, except as necessary to their CASA function (advocate, facilitate, investigate, and monitor)
- Advocates need to be careful not to attach themselves to the child emotionally. This can be very hard, but is necessary.
Advocates must understand that the child welfare system can be slow moving
- Caseworkers have high caseloads and many responsibilities. The advocates often have more time and more availability to know more about a child and their case and can be a valuable resource as they advocate for the child, especially in situations of caseworker changes.
- Clients' parents may not make the necessary changes required for the child to return safely to their parental home after many opportunities have been provided. In those situations, a decision for termination of parental rights may be required and a Judge would make that final decision. Advocates must be able to handle their personal feelings regarding the permanent severing of the parent-child relationship.
- Advocates must focus on the “best interest” of the child
- Advocates strive to make certain that the judge has all of the facts so that the best possible decision can be made
- Advocates need to be persistent.