State & Local Programs

Assessing the Need for a CASA Program

If you have not already done so, the first step in program planning involves doing an assessment of the needs of abused and neglected children in your community and making a decision as to whether a CASA program can help to meet some of those needs. Educating yourself about the problems of abuse and neglect and your community's response to those problems will enable you to become a powerful spokesperson for the CASA concept when you speak to community leaders and organizations to gain their support.

How well are the child welfare and judicial systems working in your community? There is no simple answer to that question and arriving at any answer will involve doing research and talking to a number of people who can be of help to you now and in the future when you are ready to organize the planning committee.

The information you need to gather can be gained by seeking answers to the questions that follow:

  1. How many reports of abuse and neglect were made to child protective services last year?
  2. Of the reports received, how many were substantiated?
  3. How many new abuse and neglect cases were filed in juvenile court last year?
  4. What cultural and ethnic groups are represented in the child welfare population in your community?
  5. How does the percentage of minority children in foster care compare to the percentage of minority population as a whole?
  6. What is the average length of time children remain in foster care placement before a permanent plan is achieved?
  7. How many children were terminated from court involvement last year?
  1. Of that number, how many were returned home?
  2. How many were placed with relatives?
  3. How many were placed for adoption?
  1. How many children in your county are currently waiting for adoption?
  2. Is every child involved in an abuse or neglect proceeding appointed a guardian ad litem? If not, which cases do receive appointment? How many children were represented by a guardian ad litem last year?
  3. Who currently provides guardian ad litem services?
  4. How does the presiding juvenile court judge rate the current system?
  5. Is the judge satisfied with the information being provided to assist his/her decision making?
  6. What was the total cost of the current system of guardian ad litem services last year?
  7. Does your state statute or court rules define the role of the guardian ad litem? If yes, what is it?
  8. Does your state statute specify who can serve as the guardian ad litem? If yes, who can serve?
  9. What is the average number of cases carried by a protective services social worker?
  10. What is the average number of foster care placements for each child in foster care?

Some of the information you need will be a matter of public record and can be obtained at the library. Much of the data, however, can be obtained only by interviewing child welfare and court personnel. Making contact with these individuals can provide other intangible information such as advice on the local political climate, community mood, and history of children's services leading to the current system. Some key individuals to interview:

  • Presiding judge of the juvenile or family court
  • Director of the department of social services and other staff members
  • Juvenile court administrator
  • Representative from state attorney general's or county prosecutor's office
  • State CASA office or state association president
  • Other local CASA programs
  • Members of other child advocacy or civic/social organizations who are interested in child abuse issues (such as child abuse councils, Junior League, Urban League, National Council of Jewish Women, League of Women Voters, Kiwanis, etc.)
  • Service providers who treat children referred by the court and social service agencies
  • Members of the local bar association
  • Business leaders with knowledge of the community and experience in volunteer programs

Once you have talked to many people and gathered all of your data, you will need to interpret and summarize how well your community is responding to abused and neglected children. Some issues to consider are:

  1. Does the juvenile judge feel that he/she has enough time and information to make appropriate decisions for children?
  2. Do child protective services workers carry more than the recommended 20 cases at a time?
  3. Does every child who is the subject of an abuse or neglect proceeding have a guardian ad litem appointed?
  4. If there is a guardian ad litem appointed, does that individual conduct a thorough investigation, including meeting and interviewing the child, prior to going to court?
  5. Does the average foster child in your community experience multiple foster home placements?
  6. Does every child in the court's jurisdiction have the opportunity for a frequent, thorough review of his/her case?

If the answers to these questions or others raise issues that cause concern for these children, then a CASA program may be one solution. Having a CASA program will not eliminate abuse and neglect and it will not prevent the need for foster care for some children. It will, however, help to ensure that children are placed in foster care only as a last resort, and it will help to ensure that the court has all necessary information to make the most appropriate decisions for children.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
This Web site is funded in part through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. Neither the US Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Web site (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).