State & Local Programs

 

Empowering and Retaining Volunteers Through Training

Jennifer Valentine, Program Manager, CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties and Member, National CASA Curriculum Advisory Committee

Do you dread doing program evaluations? Or maybe you are the person responsible for drafting the evaluations and dread writing them. If either of these things are true—stop! I challenge you to see evaluations as an empowerment tool to learn from your volunteers. At CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, we noticed a trend in our evaluations—as volunteers gained more experience, they craved advanced training specific to their cases and the issues they encountered in the judicial and child welfare systems. Because of the evaluation process, we successfully implemented a comprehensive continuing education program that includes volunteer mentors, professional roundtables, peer leadership programs and our Advanced Training 201 course.

Advanced Training 201 is a twenty-hour advocacy training course designed for active advocates with at least two years experience. The course includes four required classes: an in-depth case study, a session dedicated to permanency issue options, and two roundtable discussions with professionals. The roundtable discussions include one for legal professionals and one for family court judges. Each roundtable allows volunteers to engage in an open dialogue, increase communication and build relationships that will help provide service to the children. In addition to twelve hours of in-service offered throughout the year, CASA also requires participation in at least one three-hour workshop that is offered twice per year.  Individuals who complete Training 201 are honored for their achievement with a special recognition from the judge at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Party.

Another program that was established through evaluation feedback is the Program Impact Committee. This committee is composed of volunteers with a minimum of 2 years experience as an Advocate. They meet quarterly with the CASA Program Manager, Executive Director and Board President to provide direct feedback and help guide the programmatic development of the organization. The Committee also gives volunteers an opportunity to participate in the strategic planning process, the development of annual goals and the direction and requirements of Training 201 and the Peer Leadership Program. 

The Peer Leadership Program, also created through evaluation feedback, creates additional levels of participation for volunteers in the following roles:

  • Mentor Committee Leaders – Recent graduates of the Training 101 course meet with experienced volunteer advocates once a month for the initial six months of their cases to discuss case issues, consider advocacy strategies and to receive advice and guidance.
  • Court Liaisons Volunteers observe court on designated days and record detailed notes on CASA cases and distribute to staff members.
  • Medical Advocacy Council – Volunteers with a background or interest in the medical concerns of children in foster care system serve on this council. Council members have helped create a Medical Advocacy Curriculum for Training 101 and act as mentors to advocates with medically complicated cases and assist volunteers with medical data collection.
  • Educational Advocacy Council – Volunteers with a background or interest in the educational concerns of children in the foster care system participate in this council. Members of this council created a new comprehensive educational advocacy plan, and collaborate with advocates to create an action plan to ensure the educational needs of the children are met.

We are thrilled with the opportunities these programs have provided to staff, volunteers and the organization – and they were all possible through the implementation of program evaluations, formal & informal feedback and focus group discussions. The success of these programs extends to all aspects of the organization. For staff, the programs help provide extra support and guidance and also strengthen the case supervisor-volunteer relationship that has positively impacted our retention of quality volunteers. For the volunteers, these programs provide a real sense of a CASA community, help build lasting relationships between Advocates and staff and provide the additional educational outlets that improve their overall service to the children. Most importantly, the entire CASA community benefits from these programs because volunteers become more connected with the organization, not only as a result of their direct influence in developing program goals and objectives on how to better serve the children, but because their relationship with other volunteers and staff helps nurture the newest members of our CASA community – strengthening all of our voices for the children of our community.

Note: To learn more about the specific initiatives that CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties are carrying out in order to empower and retain volunteers through training, listen to the National CASA podcast featuring Jennifer Valentine, Program Manager, CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. 

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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