Standards, Self-Assessment and Volunteer Training
Written by Jennifer King, Program Operations Director, Georgia CASA, Inc.
For nearly 15 years, I have reviewed almost monthly the National CASA Standards for Local Programs with each new CASA director in Georgia. I often joke that there are a select few standards that all CASA program staff can recite and use in everyday CASA life, such as the minimum age requirement for a CASA volunteer and the volunteer-to-staff ratio. Many of the other standards, while not as often recited or included in everyday conversation, also have significant impact on our everyday work. Volunteer preparation and training is one such area that impacts every facet of a CASA/GAL program.
The National CASA self-assessment process provides an opportunity to reflect on how CASA programs incorporate standards into their day-to-day operations. A closer examination of the language in the standards around training offers a prime example of the confluence between a program’s daily operations, the requirements set forth in the standards and a volunteer’s capacity to provide effective advocacy for children.
A quick review of the training standards (with commentary on the impact they make on daily operations):
- Volunteers receive at least 30 hours of pre-service training prior to being sworn in and participate in 12 hours of in-service training per year. CASA staff and trainers make critical decisions about what can be covered in the initial training and what may be necessary to be incorporated after a volunteer’s initial assignment.
- The program conducts an annual review of all training offered and makes necessary changes based on an assessment of its training needs. Consider how and what training is offered and what additional topics might further prepare and support quality volunteer advocacy.
- Guest speakers may deliver the training under the supervision of staff. A consistent facilitator helps build group cohesiveness, is respectful of the learners and reinforces the covered material.
- Programs must use the National CASA training curriculum or its equivalent. If the National CASA curriculum is not used, the program determines whether its pre-service training includes the required topics.
- The program documents that volunteers successfully complete at least 30 hours of pre-service training, during which the volunteer must spend a minimum of 10 hours in personal contact with staff. Having verification that volunteers have successfully completed training and an opportunity for personal contact allows staff to evaluate and verify the applicant’s appropriateness to serve as a volunteer.
- The program requires court observation of abuse and neglect proceedings before a volunteer may appear in court for an assigned case, as allowed by the court. We often hear that court observation is the moment when classroom training and real-life practice "click" for a volunteer.
- Provide ICWA compliance information and resources to all volunteers. CASA volunteers should be knowledgeable about ICWA in order to ask questions and seek resources when needed.
- In-service training opportunities include cultural competency training. As with all the work we do, training opportunities should reflect our ongoing commitment to culturally competent volunteer advocacy and the needs of children.
Most of us know that the training CASA/GAL volunteers receive sets us apart from other volunteer opportunities. As stated in the standards, the purpose of the pre-service volunteer training is to increase the knowledge, skills and abilities of participants so that they can fulfill the roles and responsibilities of a CASA volunteer. Pre-service training sets the foundation for all future engagement and involvement between volunteers and staff. National CASA's self-assessment process is a valuable opportunity to review and discuss ongoing training practice.