Driving Forces for Permanency: Using Court Reporting and Checklists

Amia Barrows, Training Coordinator, Newport News CASA and Jennifer King, Program Operations Director, Georgia CASA

One of the most influential tools a volunteer has is the CASA court report. Imagine that the CASA court report was the only advocacy tool available to inform the Court of the child’s best interests.  Would this change the amount of time and emphasis that you give to this report?  The volunteer’s report is the culmination of all the hours spent on interviews, conversations, report and file reviews, research, inquiries, and information gathering.  As such, it is critical that volunteer supervisors dedicate the necessary time to ensure that the end product reflects these efforts.  Here are just a few ways that volunteers and supervisors can strengthen advocacy efforts through a comprehensive, fact-based, and child-focused report: 

  • Ensure that the basis for recommendations is supported by detailing the observations and information that led to those conclusions.  
  • Eliminate the sections the reader will skip/skim and include only the most pertinent information.
  • Reinforce how federal and state laws, policy, time frames, etc. impact court decisions and child welfare practice and determine how the report recommendations factor in these requirements. 
  • Question how the report addresses the case plan and any court ordered services, actions, etc.
  • Pay special attention to key issues/concerns of the judge (e.g., services for older youth, education, health, drug treatment).  Be sure that the volunteer addresses these issues directly in each report. Volunteers may not be as familiar with each judge’s style or common practice as those who are in court on a regular basis. 
  • Scrutinize the report as the parties’ attorneys would – provide counter arguments, question subjective opinions, seek additional information where needed, push for compelling arguments, etc.  What better way to prepare volunteers for court?  

Tools such as checklists can support the consideration and application of applicable laws and evidence based practice. This alleviates pressure on volunteers and their supervisor from having to master and recall all the applicable laws and policies for each specific case or circumstance, and supports an emphasis on individualized advocacy efforts tailored to each child’s situation.  These tools also support volunteer autonomy and resourcefulness.  Encouraging and empowering volunteers to apply these checklists to their cases can spark new ideas, elicit valuable information, promote objectivity, and reinforce laws, policies, and other considerations.  When other players in the system use similar tools and work from the same framework, it supports collaboration and collective decision making.  However, if others are not using these tools, the volunteer’s application can result in increased information, focus, and better outcomes for children.

Opportunities exist for us to strengthen our advocacy efforts within the systems in which we operate, taking into account changes in practice, new policy directions, various leadership, etc. The partnership between the supervisors and volunteers can provide the needed framework for an understanding of the process that supports, promotes, and finds ways to advocate for change. By using these tools, support, and guidance, we can ensure that volunteers are well-prepared to advocate for the child’s best interests, both in and out of the courtroom. 

Below are some examples of various national, state, and local checklists and guides.   

For permanency resolutions:

  • National CASA Volunteer Manual, pp. V6 -23 – v6-25

For educational needs, such as enrollment, attendance, performance, etc.:

For youth aging out:

For health, development , and well-being resources:

 

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