What is CASA?
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate; a non-profit organization that is a tax-exempt 501 (c) 3 charity that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom and other settings. We are one of 933 organizations that provide similar services in juvenile courts across the United States.
Each CASA organization is independent and is governed by a local board of directors. The national CASA organization provides support and coordinates information for all CASA chapters. The Tennessee CASA organization provides support to CASA programs serving the counties in the state.
How did the CASA movement begin?
In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interest of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. From that first program has grown a network of almost 1,000 CASA and guardian ad litem programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
What do CASA Volunteers do?
CASA volunteers listen first. Then they act. Volunteers are advocates for children (newborns to 18 years of age) who are in the juvenile court system due to allegations of abuse and neglect. These are the most vulnerable children in our city. The CASA volunteer gets to know the child by talking with everyone in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others. They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.
Independent research has demonstrated that children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care and less likely to reenter care.
Who can be a CASA volunteer?
You do not have to be a lawyer or social worker to be a volunteer. We welcome people from all walks of life. We are simply looking for people who care about children and have common sense. As a volunteer, you will be thoroughly trained and well supported by professional staff to help you through each case.
We provide a required 33-hour pre-service training course. Volunteers must be at least 21 years old, pass a thorough background check, have their own transportation and the ability to dedicate an average of 15-20 hours per month to the case work.
How many children need CASA?
Each year, the Davidson County Juvenile Court identifies nearly 2,000 “at high risk” children who need a CASA volunteer. Last year CASA was able to provide volunteers to only 530 of these children.
How are children assigned to CASA?
CASA volunteers are appointed by the Davidson County juvenile court judge to watch over and advocate for children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate groups or foster homes. The court notifies CASA and asks for a volunteer to be assigned. CASA lets the court know its capacity to accept cases. Because there are not enough CASA volunteers to represent all of the children in care, judges typically assign CASA volunteers to their most difficult cases. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives. Currently, two out of every three children who are deemed by the court to be at high risk do not have the benefit of a CASA volunteer.
Why do we need CASA? Why don’t the grandparents or other family members just step in?
Connecting the child with a safe place to live next requires immense effort, investigation and knowledge of the legal process. There are courageous single parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who are doing all they can to love the children left behind by irresponsible, ill-equipped, and/or incapable parents. CASA is called by the court for children who are not being helped by a strong extended family. If the child has such a capable extended family, CASA may not be needed. Our advocates thoroughly explore safe and permanent placement options and recommend what is best for the child. For the children, CASA is often the only way they will get to a safe home.
How does CASA do the job of advocating?
CASA currently has 5.5 advocate supervisors on staff responsible for overseeing the work of approximately 200 volunteer advocates. A trained volunteer is assigned to each case. A volunteer typically handles one case at a time but cases may overlap for a short period. At the end of the case, the child is placed into a home. A typical case will take 10-12 months to completion, but can take longer in some instances. We ask for a two-year commitment from our volunteers because it is critical that the same volunteer advocates for the child throughout the case.
How is CASA different from the guardian ad litem?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life and professions. They are trained to work directly with children and families and provide the court recommendations in the child’s best interest. A guardian ad litem in Tennessee is a court appointed attorney appointed that is paid to represent a child legally in the juvenile system. There is often overlap with CASA’s mission and the work of a guardian ad litem in finding the best course of action for a child. Typically, a guardian ad litem has a large case load while CASA volunteers are appointed to one case at a time. In some states, where a guardian ad litem is not required to be an attorney, the programs are combined and a CASA volunteer is treated as the guardian ad litem. Tennessee is a state that requires a guardian ad litem to be an attorney.
Why isn’t CASA taking all of the case referrals that are made by the juvenile court?
CASA is handling all of the children we can support with our current resources. To serve the needs of 2,000 children annually, we will need the following –
Funding to hire 17 additional advocate supervisors trained in social work
Up to 600 new volunteers
Funding for additional training and office facilities
We have adopted an aggressive business plan to grow our resources so that we can meet 100% of the need of the abused and neglected children in Davidson County. Our additional funding will have to come from private donors and foundations.
How much money does CASA receive from the State of Tennessee and Metro combined? Are there any federal grants?
The State of Tennessee provides $16,500 per year to every CASA agency in the state, no matter what size agency it is. Metro provides $0 direct funding for CASA. In the federal budget beginning October 2012, the money allocated for CASA was decreased 68% making the federal grants even more competitive for CASA agencies. Federal grants are offered on a competitive basis through National CASA to all CASA agencies across the country and are not guaranteed from year-to-year. The majority of our funding comes from individuals, businesses and non-profit foundations that support our mission.
Click here to learn the Ways You Can Give.
How can I get involved?
There are several ways you can support CASA’s mission:
- Become a CASA volunteer. You can make a lasting impact a child’s life by becoming a CASA volunteer. Call Julieanna Huddle, Volunteer Coordinator at 615-425-2383 or complete this form.
- Become a donor to CASA. It roughly takes $1,200 to provide one child with a CASA volunteer for one year. It costs $200 to train one new CASA volunteer. We rely on the community’s support to keep our program running. Click here and donate today.
- Support CASA’s events. Volunteer your time planning or working at one of CASA’s annual events. Or attend an event with your friends and family. A full listing of events is located here.
- Check to see if your place of employment has a giving program or foundation. If they do, connect them with CASA’s Development Director, Patience Long at 615-425-2383.
- Spread the word about CASA’s mission. Host a party and invite a CASA representative to speak. Invite CASA to a meeting at your work, organization, bible study group or book club.
For more information about CASA or to ask us a question, please call 615-425-2383.