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 I - Volunteers
Chapter 11: Volunteer Training

Designing Your Training Program
  - Schedules
  - History
  - Speakers
  - Frontline Experience: Courtroom Observation
  - A Question of Balance
  - In-Service Training
  - Volunteer Mentors

Training is an important and ongoing function of the CASA program. If a volunteer understands his or her responsibilities and the CASA program?s relationship to the system, he or she will become a more effective advocate. Giving volunteers knowledge, skills, cultural sensitivity, and self-confidence through thorough training empowers them to become highly skilled at their jobs.

When a volunteer is asked to begin training, he or she is required to make a commitment to attend all classes and complete the course. However, it is important the volunteer understands this does not ensure acceptance into the program. That commitment comes only after an applicant has successfully made it through all required training and screening and a post-training interview.

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Designing Your Training Program

Schedules

In organizing and planning volunteer training, there are a number of things to consider. First, to appeal to a broad range of individuals, you will need to schedule training sessions at the time and place that is most convenient for the majority of people. Working people may have difficulty attending during working hours. Single parents may have trouble getting away in the evenings. Weekends may be inconvenient during vacation months. You will not be able to accommodate everyone?s needs, but if you offer training more than once a year, you may want to offer one session at night and one during the day. Another variation that some programs have found successful is to hold training over several evenings and then a long session over a weekend.

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History

The Comprehensive Training Program for the CASA/GAL began as a research project sponsored by the Permanent Families Task Force of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Through funding from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the Task Force determined that one way to address the issue of permanence for children was to respond to concerns raised about effective training of CASA volunteers by developing a CASA/GAL training curriculum.

In January of 1990, the seminal Comprehensive Training Program for the CASA/GAL was officially unveiled at a training institute in Seattle, Washington. Since that time, developments in adult learning theory, changes in federal and state laws, new information about relevant subject matter, and especially the changing situations of the children we serve led to the need for a revision.

NCASAA staff, in collaboration with a Training Curriculum Advisory Committee and project consultants, began revising the curriculum in 1998.The first phase included a comprehensive survey conducted in the fall of 1998 to insure the curriculum revision would address the training needs of the CASA/GAL network. The Training Curriculum Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from a diverse group of state and local programs in the network, used this survey information to update the list of skills, knowledge and attitudes required of today's CASA/GAL volunteers. They determined the goal of the training to be "volunteers who are competent, reasonably autonomous, able to exercise good judgment, and focused on the best interests of the child in their role as CASA/GAL volunteers." They set a course for development of a skills-based, interactive, case-based and practical curriculum to meet this goal. Efforts to facilitate local adaptation were designated as a priority.The revised Training Curriculum was rolled out to the CASA/GAL network throughout 2001. Intensive three day facilitator training sessions have been offered in conjunction with the national training conference and at state and regional training sessions in 2001 and 2002. The Volunteer Curriculum, Facilitator Manual and customization guidelines are available to member programs at www.casanet.org. National CASA standards require programs to provide a minimum of 30 hours training including instruction on the court and child welfare systems, child abuse and neglect, relevant state and federal laws, permanency planning and family preservation, and the roles and responsibilities of the CASA volunteer. While the new CASA/GAL Volunteer Training Curriculum meets these standards, some customization at the state and local level will include and reflect local laws and language.

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Speakers

CASA programs often conduct training for their volunteers with help from a variety of trainers and/or experts from the community. Many agencies will provide quality training without cost to the program. For example, many programs have a representative from Child Protective Services present the training session on the role of CPS and the services they provide to families and children. A psychologist from a local agency or university might be willing to teach the unit on the dynamics of child abuse. It is recommended that the guest speaker provides a copy of the relevant units from the training manual for preparation purposes. Use your contacts and resources when planning your training, and do not be reluctant to ask for this support. It can be helpful, even comforting, for volunteers to meet some of the professionals with whom they will be working before becoming involved in cases. Sample letters to send to guest speakers are included in the facilitator manual that accompanies the draft Volunteer Training Curriculum, which is also available on casanet.

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Frontline Experience: Courtroom Observation

After the classroom portion of the training is completed, NCASAA recommends each participant observe a court proceeding to see a CASA/GAL volunteer at work. This can be followed by a debriefing session to allow volunteers to ask questions.

Court room observation is an important part of training. It offers new volunteers a chance to compare what they have learned in the classroom to the realities of the courtroom. An experienced CASA volunteer can help your training group make that transition and provide invaluable advice.

Another training method used by CASA programs involves arranging an opportunity for the new volunteer to accompany an experienced volunteer on visits and to court. Such a "shadowing" experience can also be done with a social worker or attorney and can be a powerful learning opportunity.

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A Question of Balance

This is a handbook available through National CASA which many people have found to be an especially valuable resource in helping CASA volunteers utilize what they learn in training most effectively. The book guides the volunteer through the considerations and decision-making processes necessary to arrive at recommendations for the court. Particularly helpful are the decision inventory questionnaires at the end of the book.

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In-Service Training

Once accepted into the program, volunteers need continuing educational opportunities. A volunteer?s education does not end when the first training class is over. The courts and child welfare system are subject to constant reorganization and scrutiny, and CASA volunteers must be made aware of statutory changes and new developments in child welfare. The National Standards require that a program offer at least 12 hours of in-service training opportunities each year.

Some programs conduct volunteer surveys to assess training needs. Often, directors acquire new information at conferences and want to pass it along to volunteers. The judge or court staff may suggest areas in which they feel CASA volunteers could benefit from further training. Perhaps because there is an increase in a certain type of case coming through the program (i.e., more children who are sexually assaulted, emotionally abused, or have problems with substance abuse), volunteers may need additional training on these issues.

In-service training sessions are important because they provide volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills, network with each other, and share ideas and resources. CASA staff come in contact with many people all day long, but the volunteers do their jobs in isolation. It is quite possible for two people to be active volunteers for the same program and never meet face-to-face. In-service training not only provides these volunteers with the opportunity to refine their skills, but it also gives them a chance to get to know one another, to feel part of the same "team," and to talk with people who share common concerns and experiences.

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Volunteer Mentors

In addition to the volunteer supervisor, some CASA programs have incorporated a mentoring component to their program in which they match the new volunteer working on his or her first case with an experienced volunteer. This method of on-the-job training offers the new volunteer access to an experienced person who can answer questions and discuss the details of the case. For the first group of volunteers, you might consider assigning volunteers to cases in pairs as "teams" so they may confer about procedure and case planning. Any disagreements over recommendations should be resolved in consultation with their program administrator.

As follow-up, the CASA volunteer supervisor needs to be available to volunteers for consultation and direction throughout the case. It is impossible to anticipate all problems or to wait for a regularly scheduled staff meeting to discuss them. Someone in the CASA office ? be it the program director, volunteer coordinator or other staff person ? needs to be available to answer and respond to any questions or concerns from volunteers


Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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