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The Roles and Responsibilities of the CASA/GAL Volunteer From a Judicial Perspective

J. Dean Lewis, JudgeJudge J. Dean Lewis (ret.)
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
Former Member, National CASA Association Board of Directors



What are the roles and responsibilities of a CASA/GAL Volunteer? The National CASA Association has established standards that guide how the roles and responsibilities of the CASA/GAL volunteer appointed by the Court in a dependency case are to be developed. All CASA/GAL programs are required to set forth written policies and clearly communicate the roles and responsibilities through volunteer training and supervision. The program is required to monitor each case to ensure quality advocacy that is in compliance with the National CASA Standards. The CASA/GAL program is to specify the role of the volunteer with input and approval of the court if not already determined by state statute.

National CASA Association Standards for Local CASA/GAL Programs, 2012 Edition, Section 7. E. 5. “Volunteer Roles and Responsibilities” states: The written rules and responsibilities should include the following: The volunteer will:

a. Obtain first hand a clear understanding of the needs and situation of the child by conducting an ongoing review of all relevant documents and records and Standards for Local CASA/GAL Programs 31 interviewing the child, parents, social workers, teachers and other persons to determine the facts and circumstances of the child’s situation.
b. Identify and advocate for the best interest of the child.
c. Seek cooperative solutions by acting as a facilitator among parties.
d. Provide at every hearing reports which include findings and recommendations.
e. Appear at all hearings to advocate for the child’s best interests and provide testimony when necessary.
f. Have regular and sufficient in-person contact with the child where they live to ensure in-depth knowledge of the case and make fact-based recommendations to the court. The CASA/GAL volunteer shall meet in-person with the child once every thirty (30) days at a minimum. An exception may be granted in the discretion of the CASA program staff; however, the decision to permit a less frequent in person contact shall be documented as to the justification for and reasonableness of the exception.
g. Make specific recommendations for appropriate services for the child and, when appropriate, the child’s family.
h. Determine if a permanent plan has been created for the child and make recommendations concerning permanency.
i. Monitor implementation of service plans and court orders assuring that court-ordered services are implemented in a timely manner and that review hearings are held in accordance with the law.
j. Inform the court promptly of important developments in the case through appropriate means as determined by court rules or statute.
k. Advocate for the child’s best interests in the community by interfacing with mental health, educational and other community systems to assure that the child’s needs in these areas are met.
l. Participate in all scheduled case conferences with supervisory staff.
m. Participate in in-service training.
n. Maintain complete records about the case, including appointments, interviews and information gathered about the child and the child’s life circumstances.
o. Return case files to the program after the case is closed.

Judges share their thoughts regarding the roles and responsibilities of CASA/GAL volunteers in fulfilling their advocacy role:



Judge Susan B. Carbon
Judge Susan B. Carbon
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

What do I expect from the CASA/GAL volunteer in fulfilling his/her role?

1. I want a CASA volunteer who really knows the child/teen. This means developing a level of trust and respect, something which isn’t done easily, nor quickly.

2. I want the volunteer to know what the child wants and what may be in the child’s best interests; to clearly understand if there is a difference, and if so to articulate it.

3. I want the volunteer to understand the parents, their limitations, their potential, and how they are progressing towards reunification (assuming the child has been removed). This helps put the child’s wishes and needs in context.

4. I want the volunteer to have spoken with the child protection agency, school and service providers to be able to make independent assessments of progress all around. This enables them to identify gaps, and commend progress.

5. I want the volunteer to be well prepared for the hearing, meaning his/her report is filed on time, and he/she has reviewed all other reports and is prepared to comment in court.

6. I want the volunteer to feel free to speak her/his voice, independent of anyone else. The CASA volunteer needs to be free to, and must, voice his/her opinions.

7. I want the volunteer to be confident enough to compliment those who are doing well (parents, child protection agency, service providers, child), and offer constructive criticism for those who are not.

8. I want the volunteer to understand what needs to happen at each hearing so that reports and remarks are tailored to the decisions that must be made. Understanding the legal process is important, although the CASA volunteer certainly does not need to be an attorney.

9. I want the volunteer to empower the child/teen to speak for her/himself; even though the CASA volunteer is the voice of the child, the child’s voice should be heard directly if the child so wishes.

10. I want the volunteer to be there for the child from start to finish, so that the child will know he/she is not expendable, and that reliance and consistency mean something.

11. I want the volunteer to hold everyone, including the judge, accountable so that every hearing has a purpose and is time well spent.

12. Finally, I really like it when the volunteer brings a new photo to each hearing. It reminds me that the child’s life is ticking by so quickly.

 

Judge Patricia A. MaciasJudge Patricia A. Macias
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


Independence is what judges find most critical about the CASA volunteer’s role. The child’s voice demands an advocate who fulfills their role and who speaks clearly and with determination about what is best for the child, even if that position stands alone. Judges listen carefully to each word, written and spoken, by a CASA volunteer. The judge depends on them to gather all the information, to facilitate communication among all the collaborative team members, to master the skill of advocacy, and to have commitment in monitoring the case progress to permanency. But for the judge to make a sound decision, it requires much more. While maintaining positive relationships with all individuals surrounding the child, the CASA volunteer is obliged to be self-determined and not swayed or influenced by others. Upon taking the oath to serve, a volunteer commits to act as a principled participant in legal proceedings. This means offering a position on behalf of the child based on unbiased information and free from outside pressure or personal interests.

 

Judge Ernestine GrayJudge Ernestine Gray
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and
Past President National CASA Association


What I find most critical about the role of the CASA/GAL volunteer is the fulfilling of the core responsibilities of gathering information, advocating, facilitating and monitoring. What comes to mind is the CASA volunteer who drives 5-1/2 hours to attend a twenty minute staffing (the staffing was longer because he was there) and challenges everyone in attendance to say at least one positive thing about his CASA child; who ensures that his CASA child takes his meds, which have been appropriately prescribed; and who challenges his CASA child to live up to his potential. He is not afraid to let his CASA child know that he cares and wants him to do well.

 

Judge Michael NashJudge Michael Nash
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


To me, CASA volunteers are the most independent persons in our process. They are not beholden to anyone but the children each of them represents. When you combine that notion with their training, their desire to help one child at a time, and the lack of a caseload, it almost always results in information and recommendations that not only help me as the judge make better decisions, but also lead to better outcomes for each child. I have seen CASA volunteers help find services for children that I was told were not available and I have seen them find permanent placements for children when our system faltered in that regard. In many instances, the efforts of CASA volunteers were absolutely heroic.

 

Judge Leonard Edwards Judge Leonard Edwards
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


I have found that the most important aspect of the CASA volunteer’s role is the relationship that is formed between the volunteer and the child. When a volunteer has been appointed, I know that there is a person in the child’s life who will get to know that child personally, on a one-to-one basis. The advocate will be focusing on just one child and will give that child the feeling that at least one person is truly dedicated to her. When the child has an important matter to discuss or needs support, she is more likely to turn to the advocate than anyone else. In fact, children trust volunteers more than anyone else in the child protection system (our recent survey clearly demonstrated that fact) because they know that the volunteers are not paid (and everybody else is). So what courts are doing when they create, expand, and support CASA programs, is providing a significant relationship for each child for whom an advocate is appointed. It is a gift, the gift of an important person in a child’s life.

 

Judge Patricia M. MartinJudge Patricia M. Martin
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


I remember my first experience with a CASA volunteer. I was a new judge and my initial reaction was, “Who is this person and what is CASA?” I quickly learned how valuable these dedicated volunteers are. I came to rely on them as my eyes and ears in child protection cases. Because of CASA volunteers, I was able to see numerous abused and neglected children leave the system to permanent homes to be raised by loving families, both biological and adoptive. As presiding judge of one of the largest child protection court systems in the nation, I have expanded my reliance on the CASA program, often asking the volunteers to help develop innovative solutions to the problems that confront the child welfare system. The volunteer has always come through and has proven to be a valuable partner in numerous court programs.

 

Judge R. Michael KeyJudge R. Michael Key
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

There are millions of good, caring, well-intended people in this world who never make a meaningful difference in the life of a child outside their family or circle of friends. Not so with CASA volunteers, who, on an average day, change for the good the lives of children with whom they had no previous connection and, on many extraordinary days, literally save children’s lives. While the later statement might sound like an overstatement, it is fact. Not long after we started our CASA program, we had a case where we had removed a child because of physical abuse, but we were planning on returning the child at an upcoming hearing. Even after the CASA volunteer filed her report, she continued to work the case. On a hunch, she checked with the local hospital and found out the child had been taken to the emergency room within the last few days with injuries that, standing alone might not justify a mandatory report (hence, none was made), but given the history of the case, confirmed that the child would have been at risk of serious injury or even death had we not had that information and had we returned the child home, which we surely would have done without that information. There are many other perhaps less dramatic, but equally important, examples of CASA volunteers providing information that keeps children safe.

CASA volunteers plug gaps in the safety net that should protect the children who come into the child welfare system, specifically those children who are in foster care. Having been found to be vulnerable in their own homes, we owe these children a duty to protect and nurture them. And that cannot be left just to the foster parents with whom we place these children, however committed and capable they might be. Nor can it be left to an over-burdened child services agency where the case is passed from case worker to case worker, sometimes due to turnover and sometimes due to established protocol. Except for those fortunate courts, like ours, where we have an attorney child advocate for each child in foster care, the volunteer is the only consistent source of information and advocacy for the child.

CASA volunteers benefit the court in fulfilling its role in two ways, one in court and one out of court. The decisions judges make are only as good as the information on which the decisions are based. It is absolutely critical that the court has information that is current, complete, accurate and relevant. In my court, CASA volunteers, more than any other participants, provide that kind of information. Even the attorney child advocate, because of significant caseloads, cannot generally provide that kind of information without the help of the volunteer, who helps the court fulfill its role by ensuring that the child’s needs are being met. I think that CASA volunteers generally do a better job of improving child well-being than the rest of us.

 

Judge Douglas F. JohnsonJudge Douglas F. Johnson
Juvenile Court, Douglas County, NE
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


Over the years, I have found our CASAs to be fully trained, dedicated and responsive to our children in foster care. I know our CASA Director, Kim Thomas, and her staff provide continual oversight about the quality of our volunteers as well as the quality of our program. I have confidence in our CASA leadership, board and volunteers.

In some ways the role of the CASA is simple, and as complex as the myriad of abuse and neglect issues that the children suffer. CASAs still speak up for the children. CASAs make sure the children's needs are met on a timely basis and with quality services: medical, dental, vision, hearing, educational, emotional and timely permanency with a loving, stable caregiver. And in case anyone missed it, we all need to be trauma informed and respond accordingly.

Our children's needs are as varied as the children themselves. Each of our CASAs take their responsibility seriously for a child assigned. I have never been disappointed in the quality of CASAs oversight, care, compassion and excellence. And, our CASA reports and oral updates in court help me make better decisions in meeting the needs of each child in care. They are very thorough and reliable. I breathe a bit easier when CASA is on board. I cannot do it alone. I cannot see the children when we are out of the court setting. I appreciate working together on a challenging but rewarding task. We value each child as our own. CASA for Douglas County help me be a better judge. Thanks, CASA!

Judge Peggy WalkerJudge Peggy Walker
Juvenile Court, Douglas County, GA
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


Having a CASA volunteer in Court as the voice of the child brings balance, compassion and accountability to our work. CASA brings balance to our work because each volunteer focuses all stakeholders on the needs of the child who is before us. CASA provides the consistency and stability we need in having one person who stays with the child from point of entry to permanency. CASA volunteers are courageous in their ability to navigate a complex system to speak for the child. They do so with compassion and with empathy. They make the child’s situation very real by giving examples of the challenges and needs of each child served. CASA volunteers bring accountability to our work. We have done a good job in addressing safety and permanency for children who come before us in abuse and neglect cases, but we have not addressed child well-being to the extent that we should to assure that our children succeed as they mature and enter into adulthood. CASA volunteers ask hard questions and push for answers as well as services needed to promote resiliency in children and their families. CASA volunteers are valuable partners in the child welfare system who freely give their time and talents to assure that every child’s needs are met. Thank you National CASA for your support of state and local programs and for your advocacy at the national level to assure that every child’s voice is heard through a CASA volunteer.


Judge L. Michael ClarkJudge L. Michael Clark
Superior Court, Juvenile Division, Santa Clara County, CA


* CASA's provide a thread of continuity to an otherwise chaotic and shifting tapestry that characterizes the life of a foster child.
* While the social worker must shoulder immense responsibility for all aspects of a juvenile dependency case, the CASA is permitted to focus solely on the child.
* When I prepare for a hearing, the first report I read is the CASA report. The CASA report provides me as the judge with a glimpse of the child in living color, as opposed to a more clinical, black and white description found in standard court reports.
 

Judge Katherine LuceroJudge Katherine Lucero
Superior Court, Santa Clara County, CA


A CASA is the glue and the gold in every child’s case in the Child Welfare Court System. I am always pleased when the child has a CASA assigned to them because then I know that someone is paying attention to the spiritual as well as the mental and physical needs of the child. The Child Welfare Court is about Safety, Permanency and Well Being. The CASA makes sure that we are upholding the Well Being aspect of our mission. Without them we would not be confident that the child is in the correct school setting, visiting with and developing lifelong important connections, developing hobbies and other natural talents and dreaming of a bright future. A CASA is that priceless community treasure that by selflessly loving a child that is not their own---not only saves the life of a child, but gives hope to all of us who work in this very difficult area of the law. They are superstars.



Judge Deitra Burney-ButlerJudge Deitra Burney-Butler
Juvenile Court, Clayton County, GA


The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) provides an invaluable service to Juvenile Courts. CASAs provide thorough and caring insight into the lives of the children we see, from a perspective not obtained by any other party or litigant to the proceeding. CASAs often are able to relate to the children on a level not shared by those with a clear agenda in the case. The children are brought to life by the CASA, and even when the child does not speak, the voice of the child is heard loud and clear through the voice of the CASA.

 



Judge Lisa MantzJudge Lisa Mantz
Associate Judge, Juvenile Court, Newton County, GA


"The CASA Volunteer Program is an invaluable asset to the Newton County Juvenile Court. The CASA volunteers are one -on -one advocates for the children on their assigned case and provide individual attention. This level of contact allows for the child to have a stable and consistent presence during the Court proceedings. CASA volunteers advocate for the child’s need s and never let the Court and the other participants lose sight of the humanity of the child and their goals, wishes and desires.

 

 

Judge Bradley BoydJudge Bradley Boyd
Juvenile Court, Fulton County, GA


The focus and commitment to each individual child that CASA volunteers bring to the courtroom has opened the doors to asking the right questions and getting answers that without them, I may have missed. There is much in any child’s case that can fall through the cracks. CASA volunteers are the “crack sealers.”
 

 

 

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