Become a CASA Volunteer
Each year over 460,000 children in the United States are thrust into court through no fault of their own. Approximately 300 of these children live in Calcasieu Parish.
Some are victims of violence, psychological torment or sexual abuse. Others have been neglected or even abandoned by their own parents. Most of them are frightened and confused.
Often these children also become victims of this country's overburdened child welfare system--a complex legal network of lawyers, social workers and judges who frequently are too overburdened to give thorough, detailed attention to each child who comes before them.
The consequences can be severe.
A nine-year-old boy is discovered in a Kentucky foster home so malnourished he weighs only 17 pounds. A child dies in a state-licensed "temporary care" shelter, where seven children had been sharing one bedroom for more than a year. An 18-year-old boy moves out of his seventh New York foster home, unable to read, write or care for himself as an adult.
Annual foster care costs over $6 billion.
These are just three of thousands of children who will never know what it is like to have a permanent home--with their formative years "lost" in temporary care while the court decides their fate. The annual foster care bill to the taxpayers is over $6 billion, but the cost in human potential is even greater. Studies show there is a very good chance many of the children will end up juvenile delinquents or adult criminals. Enter the CASA concept. The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program was created in 1977 to make sure that the abuse and neglect that these children originally suffered at home doesn't continue as abuse and neglect at the hands of the system.
Locally, the Junior League of Lake Charles took on the task of beginning a CASA program in 1995. After a year's partnership with
Family & Youth, the Junior League relinquished their ownership of the program to
Family & Youth in June of 1999.
A CASA worker is a trained community volunteer who is appointed by a juvenile or family court judge to speak for the best interest of children who are brought before the court. The majority of a CASA volunteer's assignments are home placement cases where an abused and neglected child has been removed for protection from the care of his or her parents.
Can anyone volunteer to be a CASA?
CASA volunteers are ordinary citizens. No special or legal background is required. Volunteers are screened closely for objectivity, competence and commitment. In addition, thorough background checks are completed with State and local law enforcement and with Child Protection Services.
What training does a CASA volunteer receive?
CASA volunteers undergo a thorough training course conducted by the local CASA program. Currently, 35 hours of pre-service training are provided. Volunteers learn about courtroom procedure from the principals in the system--from judges, lawyers, social workers, court personnel and others. CASA volunteers also learn effective advocacy techniques for children, and are educated about specific topics ranging from seminars on child sexual abuse to discussions on early childhood development.
Volunteer has three roles
As a child advocate, the CASA volunteer has three main responsibilities:
to serve as a fact-finder for the judge by thoroughly researching the background of each assigned case;
to speak for the child's best interests; and
to continue to act as a "watchdog" for the child during the life of the case, ensuring that it is brought to a swift and appropriate conclusion.
CASA based on child's rights.
The CASA concept is based on the commitment that every child has the right to a safe, permanent home. In Calcasieu Parish, the juvenile or family court judge assigns cases involving a "child in need of care" to the CASA program. The program in turn selects a trained CASA to assign to the case.
The volunteer then becomes an official part of the judicial proceedings, working alongside attorneys and social workers as an appointed officer of the court. Unlike attorneys and social workers, however, the CASA volunteer speaks exclusively for the child's best interests.
By handling only one or two cases at a time (compared to a social agency caseworker's average load of 20-30), the CASA volunteer has the time to explore thoroughly the history of each assigned case. The volunteer talks with the child, parents and family members, neighbors, school officials, doctors and others involved in the child's background who might have facts about the case. The volunteer then reviews all records and documents pertaining to the child. He or she then submits a formal report to the court recommending placement: should the child stay with his or her parents, be placed or remain in foster care, or be freed for permanent adoption?
If the court leaves the child in temporary care, the CASA volunteer provides continuity by staying on the case until it is permanently resolved.
For more information call 337-436-9533 or e-mail