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 12: Volunteer Management

Volunteer Supervision/Consultation
Volunteer Policies and Procedures
Retaining Volunteers
Performance Evaluations
Disciplinary Action
Volunteer Recognition

Volunteer Supervision/Consultation

CASA volunteers do not get paid for their work, but that does not mean program managers should be reluctant to establish guidelines for their behavior. These are people who are handling sensitive, confidential information in sometimes volatile situations. They must adhere to strict regulations in their actions and be accountable for those actions if they are inappropriate.

When a program operates under a set of well-planned guidelines, the court is then assured of quality control. The judge knows the volunteer is guided by someone who has a thorough knowledge of children, families, statutory requirements and the social service delivery system. The professional staff defines the framework for the volunteer?s conduct, and ensures that the recommendations reflect realistic expectations that are within the parameters of the court?s jurisdiction.

A good CASA manager establishes guidelines to deal with problems before they arise. These guidelines should be spelled out to the volunteers throughout recruiting, screening and training, the job description, the policy manual, the confidentiality statement, and in the interview. Reiterate the guidelines in training, and when a volunteer is assigned a first case.

Volunteers should feel free to express their frustrations, ask for advice, or just vent their feelings. These consulting sessions can produce positive results by diffusing anger, preventing inappropriate actions, recommending alternatives, or heading off burnout. It is also a good idea to supply volunteers with an emergency number where someone from the program can be reached after office hours. While the staff should not make a habit of taking off-hour phone calls, someone does need to be available in the event of an emergency.

The CASA supervisor can also reinforce volunteers through non-crisis, positive feedback. If someone is a great fact-finder but writes poor reports, consider giving that volunteer special instruction on preparing written information. If a volunteer is meticulous and responsible but afraid to speak in court, consider visiting the courtroom during a case and giving that person honest feedback on his or her performance. Each volunteer will bring a unique set of skills and needs to the program. Some will need a great deal of guidance to complete a case, while others will acquire the information and skills they need. Individual differences in volunteers require individual attention.

Because the role of the CASA volunteer is unique and most easily understood by others doing the same work, volunteers can benefit enormously from peer group meetings. Regularly scheduled volunteer meetings can give volunteers the chance to raise questions, ask for advice, compare progress, and identify recurring problems. Regular meetings also are a chance for the supervisor to offer support and encouragement to the volunteers. This time can be used to relay program information to volunteers, such as the number of children served, number of volunteer hours contributed, feedback from the judge, and suggestions on ways to improve the program?s operations. Volunteers should also be kept up-to-date on federal and state legislation affecting the children they service and the volunteer?s ability to serve them, research findings, and new community resources. Maintaining on-going contact with the volunteers allows them to feel a part of the program and share in its successes.

Another effective supervision strategy is to hold regularly scheduled staff meetings for paid employees and volunteers. Having an established time set aside for "debriefing" keeps the lines of communication open.


Volunteer Policies and Procedures

Either as a part of the program?s policy manual or as a separate volunteer handbook, policies and procedures detailing all aspects of volunteer management should be documented and communicated. Every volunteer has the right to know what is expected and what he or she has the right to expect in return. The volunteer policies should include:

  • Job description detailing duties, qualifications, and expectations
  • Oath of Confidentiality
  • Requirements for pre-service and in-service training
  • Volunteer application
  • Permission/release form for obtaining criminal and employment history
  • Reference forms or letters
  • National CASA?s Program Standards
  • Court order/appointment form
  • Case procedures
  • How assignments are made
  • Flow of cases
  • Record keeping expectations
  • Court report format/outline
  • What the volunteer can expect
  • Supervision
  • Evaluation
  • Support
  • Training
  • Reimbursement of expenses, if applicable
  • Procedures for handling complaints or grievances
  • Requirements for keeping and reporting volunteer hours

Some CASA Programs make the decision to allow their volunteers to provide transportation to children. In this case, it is necessary that the program carry liability insurance. National CASA?s program standards discourage programs from allowing volunteers to accept the responsibility of transporting children.

You may think of other issues that should be contained in your program?s volunteer policies and procedures. Again, as in all aspects of program planning, the more preparation and attention to detail you expend in the early phases, the less likely you are to have problems in the future.


Retaining Volunteers

An organizational climate that attracts and retains volunteers does not happen accidentally. Here are some factors that organization researchers have identified as important to today's volunteer:

  • Structure - Volunteers like to be a part of an organized group that has structure, but allows for flexibility.
  • Responsibility - Volunteers like the feeling of being their own boss and not having to double check all decisions.
  • Reward - Volunteers like to be rewarded appropriately for a job well done. A good program will emphasize positive rewards rather than punishment.
  • Risk - Volunteers like a sense of challenge and permission to take calculated risks.
  • Warmth - The feeling of good fellowship in the work group atmosphere is also important. It helps if a program has a prevailing mood that is friendly and informal, without cliques.
  • Support - A good program fosters a sense of mutual support and helpfulness on the part of managers and others in the group.
  • Standards - The emphasis should be on doing a good job.
  • Conflict - A difference in opinion shouldn't be considered a liability. Problems should be aired and resolved, not ignored. Divergent opinions are heard and valued.
  • Identity - A volunteer likes the feeling of belonging to a group and being a valuable member of a working team.
  • Evaluation ? Volunteers want to know where they stand and how they can improve. They deserve honest feedback.

Most programs require volunteers to make a commitment to remain with the program for at least one year. Many programs report that their volunteers on average, remain beyond that time period. Programs that conduct exit interviews with volunteers who are leaving the program have found the most common reasons volunteers leave are:

  • Lack of adequate time to do the job well;
  • Insufficient supervision, resulting in feelings of isolation or poor preparation;
  • Changes in family or work situations.


Performance Evaluations

Like paid staff, CASA volunteers? performances should be evaluated on a regular basis. Feedback and skill development are important since volunteers do not receive a monetary reward.

A volunteer is often evaluated after he or she has been with the program six months and yearly thereafter. If problems arise between the scheduled evaluations, an additional evaluation can be arranged.

The purpose of the evaluation is to give feedback and offer input to help the volunteer improve on the job. It is not a punitive process. Avoid using "performance evaluation" as jargon for criticism by the supervisor. The evaluation process should be a positive and helpful experience for the volunteer. Allow the volunteer to participate by offering an opportunity for self-evaluation. Ask what areas he or she would like to improve, or special topics (s)he could learn more about. Include the volunteer?s goals, along with the supervisor?s goals, in the performance evaluation.

Performance evaluations can also serve a variety of other functions. They can be excellent opportunities to solicit feedback on supervision. They can also be:

  • A natural time for volunteers to review whether or not they wish to remain with the program
  • An opportunity for the supervisor to encourage alternative or additional program functions
  • A time for soliciting general suggestions about the program.

To develop a volunteer performance evaluation form, begin with the position description and rate the volunteer?s performance in each area. Then proceed to the volunteer?s individual goals, and determine jointly with the volunteer whether those goals were met completely, in part, or not at all. If the volunteer falls short of the goals, explain why. Next, review the volunteer?s self-evaluation, and discuss any areas of concern. Finally, the performance evaluation should include a plan of action to address any training needed or desired during the next year. (See the sample volunteer performance evaluation form in the Tools section).


Disciplinary Action

There are times when a supervisor must be very clear and firm in directing a volunteer. This can be difficult when supervising an unpaid worker because there is a tendency to worry about appearing "ungrateful" for the volunteer?s contribution and commitment. However, it is important to remember that the volunteer has agreed to perform the duties of the position as outlined in the program policy manual. Anytime the volunteer violates these standards, he or she must be told what behavior was inappropriate and why.

Some violations of conduct may be so serious that a volunteer should be terminated immediately. Some of these include appearing in court or making contacts while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, offering drugs or alcohol to a child, any form of child abuse, breach of confidentiality, or an intentional violation of a court order. This is not an all-inclusive list, and it is up to each program to determine its own parameters. If termination becomes necessary, the supervisor should document the reason in a letter to the volunteer, keeping a copy for the volunteer?s file. These files should be maintained permanently.

A separate file should be maintained on each volunteer. The file includes, but is not limited to:

  • Completed application form and references
  • Dates the volunteer completed pre-service training
  • Signed agreement regarding confidentiality and adherence to program policy
  • Record of any stated preference for types of cases or restrictions on case assignment
  • Correspondence
  • Volunteer?s learning and training goals
  • Performance evaluations
  • Record of any disciplinary action taken by staff regarding the individual?s conduct
  • Cases assigned


Volunteer Recognition

Never assume volunteers know they are appreciated. Recognition of volunteers? contributions should be part of the formal and informal operations of the program. Volunteers who do not receive frequent feedback and recognition begin to wonder if they are doing a good job and if anyone cares about the work they do. This often creates a lack of motivation and can result in high volunteer attrition.

The CASA staff should always be aware of these factors and acknowledge when a volunteer has done a good job. Try to pass on praise from other parties, such as the judge, caseworker, child, parent, relatives, attorney, or others involved in the case. Mention accomplishments in the CASA newsletter or at staff meetings. Submit photographs or news items to National CASA to be included in the National newsletter, The Connection. A sincere and spontaneous thank you note to a volunteer for a job well done is also a welcome bit of positive feedback.

Many CASA programs hold special recognition events to formally thank volunteers for their work. Each year during National Volunteer Week (in April), many human service agencies hold dinners or parties for their volunteers. April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month, which offers the CASA program an opportunity to recognize volunteers and highlight the program?s commitment to children, as well as to gain media attention. These events are also excellent opportunities to give volunteers some momento of service, such as a certificate, flower, or pin. Items bearing the CASA logo are available for purchase through National CASA.

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