Frequently Asked Questions
How will being a CASA volunteer fit into my life?
Many of our CASA volunteers work full time, though it is important to have some flexibility in your schedule. As a CASA volunteer, you can expect to spend an average of about 12-15 hours a month working on your case, including time spent on the following activities:
- visiting with the child
- participating in meetings and court hearings
- communicating with professionals, family members and caregivers
- documenting your visits and advocacy progress in your child's file
Many of these activities are self-scheduled, so often you will be able to have evening activities/meetings, but some do require daytime flexibility. CASA volunteers are expected to attend court hearings and team meetings whenever possible. Hearings (at least every six months) are held during the day, as are most meetings with professionals. We recommend that you discuss this opportunity with your employer. Many employers are very supportive after learning more about the program.
Many CASA volunteers are retired and enjoy traveling. Unless you will be away frequently and for long durations (one month or more), and as long as you give notice first and foremost to your appointee(s) and speak with your case supervisor, your vacation or travel plans are not likely to interfere with your advocacy.
What is CASA and the Washoe CASA Foundation?
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. It is a national, non-profit program that recruits, trains, supervises, and supports community volunteers who advocate for abused, neglected, and/or abandoned children who are dependents of the court and in the child welfare system.
In Washoe County, CASA is a partnership between our local CASA Program, supported by the Second Judicial District Court, and the Washoe CASA Foundation. The Washoe CASA Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, supported by fundraising and public outreach, comprised of volunteers.
CASA is a powerful way to get involved in an organization that creates tangible, lifetime benefits for children.
Who are the children CASA serves?
Children who need a CASA are involved with the Washoe County Human Services Agency's (HSA) Child Protective Services (CPS) due to abuse or neglect. These children have often been removed from everything familiar - home, family, friends and school - and find themselves in a world filled with social workers, lawyers, judges and courtrooms where life-altering decisions are made on their behalf. CASA serves children from birth to nineteen. The majority of the children are placed outside of their home with relatives or in foster homes, group homes, or shelters. Children do not live with their CASA Volunteers.
What is a CASA volunteer?
A CASA volunteer is a trained community member who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child. The CASA volunteer spends time with the child on a weekly basis, getting to know the child while also gathering information from the child's family, teachers, doctors, care-givers and others involved in the child's life.
- you must be 21 years old
- complete necessary background checks
- provide references
- participate in an interview
- complete a minimum of 40 hours of pre-service training
When you become a CASA, you agree to:
- see the child weekly
- have regular communication with CASA staff
- follow through on the case
- maintain a high level of confidentiality
- provide information to the court by submitting a court report
- submit a monthly report on hours volunteered
CASA volunteers are ordinary citizens. No special or legal background is required. Volunteers are screened closely for objectivity, competence, and commitment. A CASA needs sound decision-making skills and the ability to remain objective and non-judgmental. While no special educational background is required, a volunteer must have above average perceptiveness, common sense and maturity to deal with complex and emotional situations.
What is the CASA volunteer's role?
A CASA volunteer provides a judge with carefully researched background information about the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child's future, keeping in mind each case is as unique as the child involved. To prepare a recommendation for the court, the CASA volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers and others who are knowledgeable about the child's history. The CASA volunteer also reviews all records pertaining to the child--school, medical, case worker reports and other documents.
How do I become a CASA volunteer?
In Washoe County, we are always working to increase the number of volunteers. We believe all children in foster care will benefit from the help a CASA can provide.
Prospective CASAs must undergo an application and screening process and successfully complete 40 hours of pre-service training. Volunteers learn about social service and courtroom procedures from the principals in the system--lawyers, social workers, court personnel and others. The CASAs learn effective advocacy techniques and are educated about family systems and the effect that abuse, neglect and abandonment has on children.
Volunteers also participate in courtroom observations to reinforce classroom learning. Volunteers gain exposure to the many issues confronting the judge in court proceedings while seeing firsthand the roles of the different parties to a case, including the role they will play once they are assigned their own case. Once the volunteers have completed and passed their training, they are sworn in as officers of the court and take an oath to conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of the court. CASA volunteers must also commit to two years of service.
Here is additional information and specific requirements about becoming a volunteer.
Why do children need CASA volunteers?
The committed service of a trained CASA makes a real difference both to the judge, who can depend on the CASA for well-researched recommendations based on the child’s needs and also to the child who has a consistent adult to count on during a difficult time in their lives. Social Service caseworkers and attorneys often have case loads of over 30 children, which can hamper their ability to give individualized attention and support to the children they represent. CASA volunteers are generally assigned to one child for the duration of their case. The CASA volunteer is often the only consistent adult in the child's life who stays involved in the case from beginning to end, providing stability and continuity.
There are currently more than 900 children in foster care in Washoe County. This statistic is worrisome. Foster children struggle against enormous odds to become healthy, successful adults. Although some resilient foster children succeed in the face of these hurdles, many do not. As many as 24% to 50% become homeless within the first 18 months of emancipation from foster care. CASA volunteers can change these odds.
Research by National CASA has found that a child with a CASA is…
- More likely to find a safe, permanent home
- More likely to be adopted
- Half as likely to re-enter foster care
- Less likely to spend time in long-term foster care
- More likely to have a permanency plan
- Likely to have more services ordered for them
- More likely to have a consistent, responsible adult presence
- Likely to spend less time in foster care
- Less likely to be bounced from home to home
- Likely to do better in school
- Twice as likely to graduate from high school
Most importantly, children themselves report that they know and can rely on their CASA volunteer.
“I think the best way to describe the impact that CASA had on my life is to compare my life and opportunities to my little brothers who grew up in the foster care system without a CASA. I was fortunate enough to have an advocate fight for my rights and care about my potential and future. My two little brothers grew up in the foster care system without ever having been adopted and without any stability. The only difference in our lives was my CASA and their lack thereof. Without my CASA, I’m confident I’d be living an impoverished life in a world of drugs and abuse. I wouldn’t have had my opportunity to attend college and graduate school. I wouldn’t have the opportunities I’ve been given. And mostly I wouldn’t have been gifted the love and support from the people I now call my parents and family. My well being, my success, and my support system can all be attributed to a single woman who took the time to believe in a dirty, barely thriving, little redhead child.” Ashley, Former CASA child
What's it like to be a CASA volunteer?
CASAs are ordinary people who care about children and their future. Adults 21 years and older of all backgrounds have joined our ranks. No legal experience is required. Please keep in mind the CASA’s mission is advocacy, not mentoring. Advocating involves learning about the child’s needs and wishes and serving as a voice for the child’s best interest within the child protection system.
What is needed is a commitment of your time, your energy, and your heart. As a CASA, you will learn values important to CASA advocacy, including responsibility, self-awareness, respect for differences, critical thinking and collaboration.
CASAs spend the majority of their time gathering information from those involved in the case, including teachers, foster parents, attorneys, caseworkers, parents and family members to determine the facts and circumstances of the child’s situation. Of course, you will also spend time with the child getting to know him/her and appreciating his/her uniqueness.
CASAs offer children trust and advocacy during the complex legal proceedings. CASAs contact the child on a regular basis to observe and gather information about the child's well-being. They encourage the child to express his or her own opinions and hopes while remaining objective observers. They explain to the child the events that are happening, the reasons they are court dependent, and the roles the judge, lawyers and social workers play.
“It has been and remains one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences in my life.” Susan, CASA Volunteer since 1995
How is a CASA different than other court related workers?
Social workers generally are employed by county governments. They work on several cases at a time, while the CASA is a volunteer with more time and smaller caseloads (typically no more than two children). The CASA does not replace a social worker on a case, but rather he or she is an independent appointee of the court. The CASA makes recommendations to the court independent of the social worker.
The CASA does not provide legal representation in the courtroom. That is the role of the attorney. However, the CASA does provide crucial background information that can assist attorneys in presenting their cases. The CASA advocates for the best interests of the child and makes fact-based recommendations to the court.
The primary role of the CASA volunteer is to gather information about the child, write reports to the court and attend court hearings. CASA is not a mentoring program. The CASA volunteer does not involve the child in their personal life and does not play an active role in the child's day-to-day life. Instead, the CASA volunteer is involved with the child and the case while the child is in foster care, to help him or her during this difficult time to help insure the best possible outcome. Once the case has ended, the CASA volunteer role also ends.
Is there a "typical" CASA volunteer?
We have CASAs from all walks of life! No special background or education is required to become a volunteer. No prior knowledge of the foster care system or legal experience is required. We encourage people from all cultures and professions, and of all ethnic and educational backgrounds. Once accepted into the program, you will receive all necessary training in courtroom procedures, social services, and the special needs of abused or neglected children.
How do CASAs get assigned to cases?
Judges overseeing family court cases can appoint a CASA to a case. The CASA program case managers review the appointments and assign a CASA to the case. When a volunteer is appointed to a case, they become an official part of the judicial proceedings, working alongside attorneys and social workers as an appointed officer of the court. At the time of their appointment, the volunteer is given an Order of Appointment signed by the judge that gives them the authority to act on their assigned case.
I can’t become a volunteer, but I still want to help. What can I do?