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 III - Managing the Program
Chapter 15; Program Operations

Policy Considerations
   - Confidentiality
   - Procedures for Handling Complaints and Grievances
   - Personnel Policies
Keeping Records
   - Master File and Working File
   - Schedule of Hearings (Docket)
Gathering Statistical Data
   - COMET

Policy Considerations

Good program management requires the creation of some formal rules and procedures. The development of overall policies can be done in phases corresponding to the developmental phase of the program. For example, you will want to have at least basic personnel policies before the director is hired and volunteer policies before the first class of volunteers is trained. It is impossible to develop policies to cover every potential issue and you may not want to restrict your options by having written rules for every situation. Sometimes the flexibility to use good judgment is the best way to handle a difficult situation. A good guide for the fundamental policies to establish initially is the National CASA standards for local programs. The process of developing policies should be a joint effort of the board and the executive director.

Because of the nature of the work done by CASA volunteers, their involvement in the courts, and the potential risk this work poses, there are some practice issues a program should carefully analyze from every perspective before committing to a policy. Some of them have been discussed in previous chapters. Others for consideration are discussed below.

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Confidentiality

Preserving the privacy rights of citizens and maintaining the confidentiality of personal information is a major concern in many segments of society. Because of the sensitive nature of CASA work, these concerns are even more critical for CASA programs. A breach in confidentiality can cause irreparable harm to the child and family involved. It can poison working relationships between CASA and the professional community and cast doubt on the value of the program. In the worst cases, it could even result in litigation.

For these reasons, it is important that staff and volunteers are clear about what is meant by confidentiality in this context. Something as simple as discussing a case in the hall, the elevator, or the bathroom, or leaving information on the coffee table at home can have unforeseen consequences.

To minimize risk, most programs have a volunteer sign a confidentiality agreement at the time of acceptance to the program. Some reinforce its importance by executing a separate document each time a new case is assigned. How confidentiality is to be handled in staffing or team meetings of volunteers should also be specifically addressed (see sample of Confidentiality Policy in the Tools section).

In virtually all programs, violation of confidentiality is cause for immediate dismissal for a volunteer. This is appropriate given the potentially devastating consequences to individuals and to the program.

Equal importance should be placed on the confidentiality of personal information about volunteer applicants, both those who are accepted to the program and those who are not. If information of a confidential nature is kept in files, it should be kept in locked files with limits to who has access.

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Procedures for Handling Complaints and Grievances

CASA is involved in sensitive work that evokes a wide range of emotions. It is, therefore, to be expected that criticism will arise from many of the players involved, especially when the CASA volunteer makes recommendations that are not in agreement with the opinion of others. If volunteers are doing their jobs well, there will often be someone angry with them. Volunteers should be trained to expect this and given support in learning how to accept it. One supportive technique is having a written procedure in place for handling complaints, should they arise.

Complaints can come from many sources, including parents or other parties to a case, social workers, other agencies, attorneys, or people in the community. They can also be directed at various people, including a volunteer, staff person, or board member. The program?s procedure should address the following:

what constitutes a formal complaint (must it be in writing, etc.),

with whom the complaint must be filed, when complaints shall be handled by staff and when they shall be handled by the board, when the board is involved, whether it should be the whole board, a committee, or one individual.

The complaint procedure components listed above apply to both internal and external complaints. In other words, it applies to outside parties filing grievances against a CASA employee or volunteer, as well as to a CASA employee or volunteer filing a grievance against another person affiliated with CASA.

Knowing in advance how such problems will be addressed will help to alleviate the anxiety and discomfort that naturally accompanies these situations. Most complaints are not serious and should not be threatening to those involved. However, because of the sensitive nature of CASA's work, all complaints are cause for concern and should be given adequate consideration.

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Personnel Policies

Perhaps no policies are more important than the policies governing the hiring and management of personnel. No matter how new or how small, organizations should have at least minimal policies in writing. No area exposes programs to greater potential for liability than the mishandling of personnel matters. Because the legal ramifications are significant, you should have personnel policies reviewed by an attorney knowledgeable about employment law before they are adopted by the board and distributed to staff. At a minimum, policies should be developed that address the following:

  • Hiring procedures;
  • Work Schedule;
  • Compensation;
  • Employee benefits;
  • Code of conduct;
  • Performance evaluations;
  • Workplace safety and security; and
  • Termination policies.

All personnel related policies should be developed with full knowledge of the implications of the following:

  • Federal minimum wage;
  • Equal employment opportunity;
  • Job safety and health; and
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992

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Keeping Records

One of the primary operational tasks is the maintenance of accurate records. In addition to financial records which were discussed in the previous chapter, the program must, at all times, be aware of the status of every case assigned by the court. The following discussion provides guidance on the types of records to maintain for this case management function.

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Master File and Working File

When CASA is appointed to a child via court order, the program will obtain or receive a packet of information from the clerk or court administrator containing all pertinent legal documents and notices. This includes copies of all pleadings filed with the court, a copy of the court order appointing CASA, and the date and type of the next hearing scheduled.

These documents are the heart of your master and working case files. They should be placed in your master filing system under the child?s name, or under the docket number, thereby helping to ensure confidentiality. Many programs, which use manual systems, keep these records filed in chronological order. Any subsequent information about the case will be added to this file resulting in a comprehensive record of the case throughout its lifetime. This is also a logical place to keep a record of communication between the CASA office and the volunteer.

The volunteer who is assigned to the case will also need a working case file. Make copies of your original documents, and give them to the volunteer at the time (s)he is assigned to the case. As the volunteer works on the case, (s)he can use this file as a place to also keep the dates and notes from interviews, information on how to contact various parties, and copies of reports provided by the caseworker or parents.

It is critical for volunteers to realize that the materials contained in these files are confidential in nature and that they take precautions to safeguard their working files when they are in their possession. A procedure for destroying or returning working files to the program should be established. A time frame for keeping office files and procedures for destroying them should be agreed upon by the program and the court. National CASA recommends establishing an agreement with the court in which the records no longer needed by the CASA office are returned to the court, where they will be disposed of in the manner in which the court is accustomed.

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Schedule of Hearings (Docket)

It is also necessary to keep a complete record of court hearings for each case. Your docket form should include:

  • Juvenile court case number
  • Date and type of hearing
  • Child?s name
  • CASA volunteer?s name
  • Caseworker
  • Changes in dates (i.e. continuances)

This information can be gleaned from the court docket, court orders, or verbal orders from the attorney general?s office or the administrative office of the court. When you develop a system for keeping track of the case?s hearing schedule, keep in mind that information will change frequently. Parties often ask for continuances or the judge may determine additional information is needed before the hearing can be effectively concluded. The schedule of upcoming hearings should be a working document, able to accommodate change. It should also verify notification of the appropriate people regarding the change.

Sometimes the volunteer will be the first to know of a change in the schedule and will notify the CASA office. The staff should then try to confirm that information by contacting the juvenile court office or the attorney general?s office.

The CASA Program must follow written policies and procedures regarding access to, use of, and release of information about the children it serves to ensure that children?s confidentiality is maintained at all times. To help assure that records maintained in the CASA office are secure, physical security measures should include locked filing cabinets and access codes for office computers.

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Gathering Statistical Data

There are several reasons why CASA programs should pay close attention to gathering accurate and timely statistics. One primary reason for record keeping is to facilitate efficient program management. It also demonstrates accountability: to the courts, children and families, the community, funders and 
the media. Additionally, the 1996 amendment to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires states to report on the number of children for whom advocates were appointed to represent their best interests, and on the number of court contacts between the advocate and child. Most often, the states have only the data collected by CASA programs to report.

When choosing projects to fund, most foundations and/or community service  organizations want evidence that a cause is worthy and that it effectively  serves a community need. Testimonials alone are not enough to convince these  potential funders to offer financial support. They need to see solid data that  illustrate the program?s accomplishments.

Likewise, statistics can help to solidify your public image and credibility.  Funding sources look for facts that show why the program is needed (abuse and  foster care statistics), what it is doing (numbers of volunteers, the hours they  spend on the job), and the results/outcomes (number of children served, cost  savings to the court).

This information is also a powerful motivator in other public awareness  projects. If you can quote positive figures in speeches, informational  materials, or for fundraising projects, your program will be perceived as  valuable and effective. 

One of the most effective statistics the CASA program can cite is the amount of  volunteer time contributed to the program and the children it serves. By  documenting the time contributed, you can make a credible argument for the value  of volunteers. This information can help in your public relations efforts and  in seeking support from funders.

It is recommended that programs require volunteers to track the number of hours  spent on specific activities associated with their cases. These activities  include attending hearings, foster care reviews and meetings; contacts in person  and by phone with children, parents, supervisors, social workers, therapists,  and others; travel to appointments and hearings; and writing and editing  reports.

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COMET

Keeping all of the statistics up to date can be a full time job in itself, leaving you with less time to dedicate to your volunteers and the children they represent. To remedy this situation while meeting the need for reporting, National CASA has provided an effective child-centered database to compile and update important program information on children and volunteers. Comet (CASA Outcomes, Management and Evaluation Tool) can help programs keep and manage vital case information, produce activity reports, evaluate their effectiveness, and measure outcomes for the children they serve. Comet can, and should, be modified to fit local program needs, terminology, and reporting requirements. This database is free to National CASA member programs (Go to Comet) (see sample of a Comet Stats report in the Tools section).

In addition to tracking statistics, Comet can be used for:

  • Reviewing the history of placements
  • Tracking the changes in attorneys, case workers, and others involved in the case
  • Compiling data needed to determine outcomes for each child
  • Maintaining monthly and annual child and volunteer demographics and numbers, making it simple to complete the National CASA annual program survey
  • Determining if volunteers have met training requirements and reporting on individual and group trainings
  • Evaluating program effectiveness and performance

Each program must determine what information is necessary to serve its needs and purposes. Privately funded programs can use the data in grant applications and to justify spending to funders. Up-to-date information can also improve the program?s position with local media.

Other resources to assist in your data collection are the Achieving Our Mission manual and a technology guide, Computers and the Internet, both of which are available through National CASA.


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