After extensive training, the CASA volunteer is sworn in as an officer of the court by a Judge and is assigned to an abuse or neglect case by a CASA Supervisor. The CASA volunteer then begins the process of understanding all the details of the child’s case, from reviewing documents to interviewing everyone involved, to meeting the child and his or her family. After compiling all of the information, the CASA makes a recommendation to the Court as to what the CASA believes is in the best interest of the child. Moreover, the CASA volunteer can suggest and help implement services that the child or family might need. The CASA volunteer continues to monitor the case until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home and the case is closed.
CASA volunteers are ordinary people who are concerned about the happiness and safety of all children. You do not need a social work background or legal expertise to be a good advocate, but you do need to be committed to your case and willing to fight for what is in the child’s best interest. Part of the CASA program’s success has been its diversity of volunteers—full-time workers and stay-at-home parents, retirees and college students, people of all races, religions, and economic backgrounds who want to make a difference in the life of a child. We do require that our volunteers are 21 or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and successfully pass our background screening, but all other skills and knowledge are taught in our extensive training program.
Case workers are employed by the Missouri Department of Social Services – Children’s Division. They handle many cases at one time and are responsible for helping an entire family, which includes setting up individual services for family members. The CASA volunteer is not paid, works on only one case at a time, is an advocate for the child, and does not set up services. The CASA volunteer does not replace the case worker; he or she is an independent officer of the court who works with the case worker, and other team members, to act in the child’s best interests.
The CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation for the child in the courtroom; he or she does not replace the attorney on a case.
Heart of Missouri CASA has considerable respect within the child welfare system. Case workers, attorneys, teachers, physicians and other professionals are willing to cooperate with our advocates because they know our volunteers undergo extensive training and maintain objectivity as officers of the court. Nationally, CASA has been endorsed by the American Bar Association and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. In 2007, the Missouri Bar Association’s Young Lawyers of Boone County hosted a golf tournament that raised funds for local and statewide CASA programs.
CASA is a priority project of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Program. The office provides partial funding for the National CASA Association and encourages the formation of new CASA programs throughout the country. The Missouri state legislature passed House Bill 107, creating the Missouri CASA fund, in 2001. Disbursements from the fund began in 2003. In 2007, the Missouri House of Representatives added CASA to their court budget giving each local program an additional $5,000.