State & Local Programs

CASA: A Guide to Program Development

Section 1 - Planning a Quality Program (Chapters 1- 9)
Section II - Volunteers (Chapters 10- 12)
Section III - Managing the Program (Chapters - 13-15)

Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Section I - Planning a Quality Program
Chapter 5: The Power of Image

Developing Community Support
   - Explaining the Benefits of CASA
Explaining How CASA Relates to Others in the System
   - CASA Volunteers and Attorneys
   - Social Workers
   - Citizen Review Panels
   - Foster Parents
   - School Personnel
   - Mental Health/Substance Abuse Therapists and Counselors
   - Medical/Public Health Professionals
Responding to Common Objections to the Program
Gaining Visibility in the Community
Getting Started: The Basics

Developing Community Support

Athough CASA programs have been around for over twenty years in some communities, it is still a relatively new concept to most people, so many community members will not be familiar with the role and purpose of a CASA volunteer. If the new program can successfully educate the public about who it is and what it does, it will likely meet less resistance. Public support is also a significant factor in building credibility and staying-power. In other words, communities are less likely to discontinue support for a well-established program with a recognizable name.

Particularly in the initial stages of developing your CASA program, the ability to concisely state the program?s purpose is essential when speaking to each agency and constituency within the community. You must also be equipped to respond to any objections which may be voiced. Because the needs and characteristics of each community are unique, the questions and responses in different areas will vary. However, history of growth and acceptance of CASA programs indicates that some issues and objections can be anticipated and resolved early.


Explaining the Benefits of CASA

Some of the commonly cited benefits of a CASA program include:

  • Quality Representation of Children

A CASA volunteer is specially trained to conduct an independent investigation of the child?s situation followed by a report to the court of all relevant information. The volunteer frequently has more time to devote to the case than the professionals involved and therefore can provide the court with more in-depth information. Social workers or attorney guardians ad litem can carry as many as 60 cases at a time while National CASA Standards recommend that a volunteer not be assigned to more than two children/sibling groups at a time.

  • Quality Decision-Making by the Court

A CASA volunteer is specially trained to conduct interviews with children, parents, and professionals to obtain important facts and opinions regarding the child?s needs. Using the materials gleaned from the investigative process, the CASA volunteer, the volunteer?s supervisor, and the attorney can engage in a process of joint case discussion. Considering a child?s situation from several perspectives leads to more carefully considered recommendations that can positively affect the decision of the court.

  • Community Awareness and Involvement

Involvement of community volunteers in the court system provides the added benefit of educating citizens about the needs and interests of abused and neglected children. By engaging these citizens, we encourage the community to accept ownership of the problems of child abuse and neglect and to work at finding solutions and prevention measures.


Explaining How CASA Relates to Others in the System

Most professionals in the community are very supportive of CASA once they are provided information about the role of the volunteer and how they will be required to interact with the advocate. In fact, many professionals have asked to have CASA volunteers assigned to the children with whom they work. Initially, however, there is usually some resistance when the program is new and those who work in the system have not had experience with CASA volunteers. Every professional who works in this field considers him/herself a child?s advocate and they naturally feel that having someone else assigned to a child to fill that role is not necessary. It is important to establish clear and open channels of communication at both the agency and individual level to assure effective collaboration and cooperation. Establishing a clear understanding about the role of the volunteer and how the volunteer will relate to each player in the child?s arena is a key first step toward creating good relationship (see Memo of Understanding in Tools section).


CASA Volunteers and Attorneys

CASA volunteers and attorneys relate to each other in varied ways depending upon the model of representation that is established by the court and the CASA program. The most common models of interaction are:

  • Attorney is guardian ad litem, and the CASA volunteer is an independent "Friend of the Court" or is a party to the action, reporting directly to the court ? no mandate to work together
  • Guardian ad litem may be an attorney, a CASA volunteer or other non-attorney adult
  • CASA is the guardian ad litem, teamed with attorney advocate
  • CASA is the guardian ad litem, represented by attorney in court

Regardless of the model used in your program, the keys to successful collaboration with attorneys are a clear understanding of roles, commitment to teamwork, frequent two-way communication, and an established protocol for resolving differences when they occur.

It is also important to emphasize to your local legal community that the intent of the CASA program is not to provide legal representation for children. It is to make sure the best interests of children are heard in court, and this job is best performed in conjunction with an attorney. CASA programs must have either an attorney on staff or consult regularly with pro bono attorneys, contract attorneys, or attorneys appointed to serve jointly on a case for this purpose. In general, the legal profession has been quite supportive of CASA programs nationally.


Social Workers

CASA volunteers and social workers tend to be in close communication and share information on most cases. It is of critical importance, especially in jurisdictions that assign CASA volunteers early in the court process, that the roles of each are clear. CASA volunteers do not deliver services but may locate and recommend them for a child or family. They often have input regarding the development of a case plan or may recommend a revision, but they do not formulate the plan. Just as CASA volunteers do not practice law, they do not practice social work.

When approaching a social service agency in your community, it is especially important to emphasize that it is not the mission of CASA volunteers to look over the shoulder of other agencies. Rather, the purpose of the CASA or volunteer guardian ad litem is to ensure that the court has all the information it needs to bring about the expeditious placement of children in a safe, permanent home environment. In the majority of cases, the CASA volunteer achieves that goal through close cooperation with the caseworker, supporting the case plan and the department?s recommendations.

Sometimes, however, the volunteer makes recommendations that are different from the caseworker?s. Any resulting complications can be minimized if every effort is made to keep the attention focused on the child and the facts surrounding his or her circumstances rather than on the disagreement. Building a positive working relationship with the department, as with any other entity, requires open communication on a regular and ongoing basis. Sometimes relationships must be built with one social worker at a time.


Citizen Review Panels

In many states and local communities, the federally mandated review of cases involving children in foster care is done by a panel of volunteers who are trained to consider information about how the child?s case is progressing. CASA volunteers are excellent sources of information about the child?s current needs and circumstances and are often asked to present this information to the review panel.


Foster Parents

CASA volunteers communicate often with a child?s foster parents about how the child is doing and what needs the child currently has. Foster parents are the best experts on any changes in behavior, school performance, medical or social needs, and what services are currently being provided by social services. CASA volunteers and foster parents do not always agree, but they are both focused only on what is best for the child and therefore have a strong partnership.


School Personnel

CASA volunteers often contact schoolteachers, principals and counselors of school-aged children to see how they are progressing in school. If the child has special educational needs, the volunteer will check to ensure that those needs are met. In some states, they may serve in the capacity of educational surrogate in order to review a child?s individual educational plan.

Mental Health/Substance Abuse Therapists and Counselors

Treatment professionals can communicate with CASA volunteers, provided appropriate releases have been signed and/or court orders allow the release of information. Parents? progress in treatment and compliance with court ordered treatment is an important area of information that the volunteer reports to the court.


Medical/Public Health Professionals

With appropriate releases or court orders, relevant medical records can be obtained and communication with medical professionals about the child?s condition(s) can occur.


Responding to Common Objections to the Program

Here are some of the most common questions and objections CASA programs have faced when first introducing the concept to the professionals and citizens in their communities. The responses are drawn from real program experience, and can help you prepare for any opposition you may face. The responses provided are not guaranteed to resolve the concerns, but they will hopefully steer the dialogue in a positive, helpful direction.

Objection: "Adding one more person to the process is unnecessary and will further complicate the handling of the case."

Response: The child is already involved in the process and his/her interests must be considered by a number of persons under the present system. Yet when so many people and so many institutions are involved on the child's behalf, sometimes the focus on the child gets lost. The CASA can be the thread that pulls all of these resources and caring people together. Designating one specially-trained advocate to speak for the child is more efficient and may actually save time since programs train volunteers in negotiating skills that can sometimes facilitate the progress of difficult cases (cases otherwise stalemated or polarized).

Objection: "The caseworker is a trained professional, and does not need an untrained lay person interfering in case planning and management. The volunteer would be practicing social work without the training."

Response: The social worker is indeed a trained professional hired for his knowledge of child development, the dynamics of abuse and neglect, and skills in helping families problem solve. The CASA volunteer does not practice social work and has no decision-making authority. When they testify in court, they are not considered expert witnesses. However, the volunteer does receive extensive training and has been selected because of his/her ability to be thorough and objective. CASA can help social workers who have high caseloads by giving the kind of focused attention to children that social workers would if they had more time.

Objection: "The system is working fine; we do not need anyone else checking on us."

Response: The CASA concept is not limited to courts and social service systems that are experiencing problems. The child is entitled to representation of his/her best interests, as specified in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. The use of trained volunteers in that role has proven a cost-effective model for meeting that requirement. The CASA volunteer serves as an adjunct to the system, ensuring that the system works well for the child.

Objection: "If a new program is developed, funding will likely be cut from some other program to support this one, because there is no new money in this community to support new programs."

Response: The impact of all permanency planning efforts is felt in the long term with a reduction in the costs of foster care, and reduced workload of court and social service personnel. By utilizing attorneys in an efficient manner, volunteers have actually saved money while offering greater representation for children. They can provide the background information necessary for the attorney's legal case.

Objection: "CASA volunteers are practicing law without legal training or a license."

Response: CASA volunteers receive extensive training in the substance of child welfare laws and local court rules in addition to the workings of the court system. However, CASA volunteers do not practice law; they have access to legal counsel to advise and represent them in legal matters and procedures beyond the scope of their training.

Objection: "Volunteers cannot be trusted to work in the court system, carrying so much responsibility."

Response: One of the foundations of the judicial system in the United States is the use of citizens as jurors. They are charged with the very serious responsibility to decide the outcome of cases, based on evidence presented. The CASA concept also assumes citizens are capable of responsible participation in the court process, and provides specialized training, clear role definition, and professional supervision to guide and support the volunteer.

Objection: "What about the potential for liability when volunteers are used in the court?"

Response: Some states have specific legislation addressing the issue of liability of volunteers in general, or specifically, CASA volunteers. Some nonprofit agencies have purchased liability insurance coverage for their volunteers. Whether or not a volunteer is covered under the state's liability protection or through a county risk maintenance plan will depend entirely upon the jurisdiction.

Objection: "The information in cases of alleged child abuse and neglect is confidential and very sensitive. No one from the community should have access to that information about families and children in the community."

Response: The CASA program emphasizes the importance of confidentiality when training its volunteers. The role as the child's representative makes the CASA volunteer a recognized part of the proceeding, with the need to know the information available to the other parties, and the same obligation to handle that information confidentially. The success of the existing CASA programs indicates that the confidentiality issue can be adequately addressed, and most programs state explicitly that violation of confidentiality is grounds for dismissal of a volunteer. In many programs, volunteers are required to sign an oath of confidentiality.


Gaining Visibility in the Community

CASA/GAL programs are different from most other programs serving the court because they depend on public visibility to survive and grow. Unlike caseworkers, attorneys, or court personnel, CASA/GAL volunteers are recruited by outreach in the community. If the public has not heard of the program, it will be more difficult to effectively serve the community?s children.

As a result, CASA/GAL programs face a unique challenge: they must work within the confidential parameters of the court and social services system while simultaneously promoting the program to the public. National CASA member programs need public visibility:

  • To recruit volunteers
  • To generate community support and credibility for the program
  • To raise funds

This presents an ongoing challenge for most programs. Cases never stop coming in, but volunteers sometimes do. While the program may rely on word-of-mouth recruiting for its first group of volunteers, it is unrealistic to think this kind of "grapevine" effort will maintain a sufficient volunteer pool in the months and years to come. Free time is a valuable commodity for most people and they are most likely to dedicate volunteer hours for a program with a recognizable name and solid reputation providing a much-needed service for children.


Getting Started: The Basics

New programs should reserve some money in their budgets for public relations materials. Don't perceive these items as a luxury; the dollars put into creating effective marketing tools now will pay off later in recruitment, fundraising and community awareness efforts.

One benefit of your program membership in the National CASA Association is you may use NCASAA graphics and public relations materials available from the national office.

NCASAA materials have been designed so every program may use them, regardless of name. By using the materials developed by the National CASA Association, all network programs, including programs carrying other names (such as Guardian Ad Litem, ProKids and FOCAS) will have the means to graphically maintain a consistent national image.

To ensure we maintain quality in our visual image, members of the National CASA Association must adhere to the graphics standards when using these materials. Our purpose is to offer a means to achieve uniformity within the CASA/ GAL family, and to offer guidance to new members (see the Graphics Standard in Tools section).

The National CASA 's Communications Manual for CASA/GAL Programs specifically outlines ways to launch a successful public relations campaign for your program. It contains information on: designing printed materials; putting together an information/ press kit; working with the media; and getting a public service announcement on the air. Chapter 9, "Recruiting the Right Volunteers," may also offer some helpful ideas to promote the program.

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