CASA is a non-profit community organization that provides volunteer advocacy services to children who are under Juvenile Court jurisdiction (i.e., foster care, adoption services, and juvenile delinquency). Superior Court Judge Arnold Rosenfield founded the Sonoma County CASA program in 1996. The Judge was concerned because he often saw children languishing in the foster care system or become the victims of poorly documented or supported decisions. The Judge was also concerned with the self-esteem and emotional care that the children received. This CASA program was the 32 program founded in the state of California. Since its inception, CASA has been the “Child’s Voice in Court” for OVER 1,400 abused and neglected children.
CASA FACTS AND NEEDS STATEMENT
- Currently in California 90,000 children are living in foster homes and small group homes
- Over 600 hundred of these children are right here in Sonoma County
- CASA was started in 1996
- 200 of these children receive CASA services annually
- CASA has over 180 volunteers active on cases annually
- CASA volunteers provide over 15,000 hours of case management annually.
- CASAs budget is $547,000 annually and we are funded by private means (events, grants, corporations and individual donors)
- CASA is one of 44 other CASA programs in California and 900 CASA programs in the United States and a member of the National and State CASA Associations
- Only 18% of each dollar raised goes to administrative overhead
When the Juvenile Court Judge assumes jurisdiction and finds a child to be a dependent of the court, many different professionals enter the case. These include social workers, minors’ attorney, and attorneys from County Counsel, the Public Defender’s office, law enforcement officials, and counselors. Everyone involved has some interest to represent and while their intent is to serve the child, none of these professionals’ time is focused solely on the child’s esteem, daily well being, personal desires/needs and interests.
The Juvenile Court’s objective in assigning a CASA is to provide a single consistent person who will take the time to mentor, advocate for and keep the interests and welfare of the child a priority. Serving as a complement to the deposition of the case, CASAs can provide the companionship and self-esteem enhancing support needed during a time of turbulence and confusion.
The CASA Program provides representation without charge to children between the ages of birth to twenty-one, who have been adjudged dependent children of the court under Welfare and Institution Code Sections 300 and 602.
The goal of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program is to prevent abused and neglected children from becoming lost in the Juvenile Dependency system. The objective of matching a CASA Volunteer, a trained advocate from the community is to ensure that the child’s best interest is represented.
The volunteer has three essential roles as an advocate:
- to be the child’s voice in court, representing their needs, concerns, and best interests;
- to complement the Juvenile Court/Child Welfare system by researching and assessing the circumstances of each case and reporting their recommendations and findings;
- to continue to support the child and the progress of the case as it moves through the system;
The program receives referrals directly from the Juvenile Court. CASAs are matched to the child and provide approximately 10-12 hours of service per month on casework. After reviewing the case information and court reports the volunteer consults with clinical and program staff to develop a case plan. Prior to each court hearing, the volunteer prepares a court report containing their evaluations and recommendations for the child. The Juvenile Court judge reads and considers the CASA report in addition to the social worker’s report prior to making his decision. Volunteers attend all Juvenile Court hearings that affect the rights and welfare of the child. Each court appointed volunteer is carefully screened and receives 30 hours of expert training in skills necessary to fulfill his or her responsibilities.
CASA volunteers are in a unique position because they provide information not usually available to the Juvenile Court.
Because of the growing number of cases filed in Juvenile Court and dwindling resources to adequately monitor the cases, judges find the CASA volunteers to be positive complements to providing the information necessary to make better-informed decisions.
In addition to our services to abused and neglected children, the CASA program works to provide community education and awareness concerning the issues of child abuse, neglect and child welfare policy. We are also committed to working toward public policies that promote child abuse prevention and addressing reforms in the Juvenile Dependency/Foster Care system.