How did the CASA movement begin?
The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program was created in 1977 by a family court judge in Seattle, WA – David Soukup. Because caseloads were becoming unmanageable for the social workers and attorneys involved in the system, he noticed a critical lack of information on the cases in his courtroom. The professionals were often unable to investigate each case thoroughly or, even worse, were unable to visit the children on their caseloads to ensure each child’s safety.
Judge Soukup believed that community members could be trained and supervised to serve the court as expert witnesses on behalf of the children involved. He obtained funding to recruit and train volunteer community members who would be assigned to just one or two cases at a time, so that they would have the luxury of focus to gather all of the pertinent information, meet with the child, and report their findings to the judge. This vision remains the basis on which all CASA programs are built.
Today, the National CASA Association has grown to a network of nearly over 1,000 CASA programs, across 49 states and the District of Columbia. CASA volunteers have helped nearly 2 million abused children since the first program was established in 1977.
What is a CASA volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a specially trained citizen (21 years and older) who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of an abused, neglected, and/or abandoned child in court. Children helped by CASA volunteers include those in foster care whom permanency is being addressed. The primary responsibility as the CASA volunteer is to serve as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the court. Volunteer advocates independently investigate the child’s situation through both objectively examining the circumstances of the child's life including relevant history, environment, relationships, and needs of the child, and gathering information from the child, his/her biological parents, foster parents, teachers, counselors, and others. The CASA volunteer ultimately makes recommendations based upon the information gathered to the Berks County Dependency Judges through both formal written and oral reports as to what permanent placement would be best for that particular child, and what services the child could benefit from whether those services are related to educational needs, social needs, mental health needs, physical health needs, or cultural needs. Most critically, the CASA volunteer develops a relationship with the child that facilities the child sharing her needs, fears, and hopes with the volunteer.
To provide a competent, responsible, and compassionate court-appointed community volunteer to advocate for each child who faces abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment; our goal, to restore their well-being and ensure the eminent right to a safe, nurturing, and permanent home.
Effectiveness of CASA Advocacy
Children with a CASA volunteer are:
- more likely to find a safe, permanent home
- half as likely to re-enter the foster care system
- substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care
- more likely to succeed in school
- more likely to receive vital services