Q. Are Court Appointed Special Advocate – CASA volunteers mentors?
A. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers are much more than mentors. They are sworn officers of the court, appointed by a juvenile court judge to advocate one-on-one for children or youth who are the victims of abuse and neglect and in the foster care system. Volunteer advocates can significantly influence a child or youth’s life during the journey from foster care to a safe, permanent home. Through their advocacy efforts CASA volunteers provide hope, increased opportunity, consistency, and a better life for children and youth in the court’s care. They help to end the cycle of abuse and neglect — making a difference for generations to come.
Q. What are the basic requirements for becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate – CASA volunteer?
A. All child advocates must complete the required orientation and training program, criminal/background check and meet with our Sonoma County CASA Executive Director for approval in order to accept a case. CASA volunteers must be at least 21 years of age, and be able to relate to people of different cultural backgrounds. Child advocates must also have a valid California driver’s license (for three consecutive years), and all vehicles that might be used to transport youth must be insured. It is desirable that the volunteers have effective oral and written communication skills, and it is required that they maintain objectivity and keep the confidentiality of the children, their families, and court records. They must adhere to the mission, rules and guidelines of the Juvenile Court and Sonoma County Court Appointed Special Advocates program, and comply with required paperwork in a timely manner.
Q. How often should I be seeing my child?
A. It will depend on such factors as the child’s circumstances, the distance of the placement, and the age of the child. Typically you will meet with your child once a week or every other week. During the off weeks, you may make phone calls to check in with your child. The average volunteer puts in about 10-12 hours per month of service. The important thing is to spend consistent and meaningful time with the child.
Q. How many volunteer hours a month does it take to be a CASA?
A. It varies from person to person, case to case. But on average, the minimum time spent is 10-12 hours per month. The volunteer is the pace setter for interactions and the type of activities you engage in. Working with the foster parents, social worker and the CASA Volunteer Supervisor is advised at all times. Some visitation may need prior approval.
Q.What is the length of my commitment to this program?
A. The minimum commitment is two years. However we want you to be there for this child and case duration will vary. Usually this is discussed at placement.
Q. Once I’ve taken a case, where do I begin?
A. After all paperwork has been completed, and you have been cleared, you will be notified and an appointment set up. You will meet with a placement worker who will work with you to match you with a youth with whom you feel comfortable. You will then review the CASA office file thoroughly. The first person you call is the child’s Social Worker to discuss current case circumstances and location of the youth’s shelter. At this meeting with the social worker you will discuss your child and copy paperwork. From here on out each case is different. You will want to arrange your first meeting with your child. Then you will want to meet with the child’s attorney, others such as the County Office of Education, then the child’s school teacher, therapist (if applicable), and other authority figures in this child’s life, in order to gain as much information about this child as possible. Be sure to carry extra copies of your court order with you at all times.
Q. My social worker does not return my phone calls. What should I do?
A. Social workers are very busy and we can not stress enough tolerance and understanding. However you should call a CASA “Volunteer Supervisor” should be made it you find yourself not getting calls returned in a timely fashion. You should not expect a social worker to be at their desk all the time. In fact most workers are in the field 60 -75% of the time. It is important that when you do call, that you leave a clear and concise message in addition to your name and number for contact (usually your cell number). Be sure to advise when is the best time the social worker can reach you, or offer to call back at a certain time if that is more convenient for them. Often a social worker may already be working on your particular concern, but just may not have had the time to return your call. The most successful CASA volunteers have professional relationships and consistent interactions with their social workers. Do not fall into the routine of only calling your worker when you have a problem. We all like to hear the good stuff you’re doing and seeing on your case.
Q. Why do I sometimes get several calls from the CASA staff regarding my child?
A. The CASA staff try very hard to keep you informed about any changes or paperwork we receive from the courts, group homes and social workers relating to your case. The paperwork does not always come in at the same time or even in the same envelope. Because of the volume of correspondence we receive. it is necessary to delegate and share, which may mean that two different people will end up with information regarding the same child. So, on occasion a CASA may receive more than one phone call from the CASA office on a given day. It is important to make sure all information is coming your way. We would not want you to miss anything.
Q. Where do I go to get my fingerprints scanned?
A. You will make your appointment with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. Your training coordinator will give you the direct contact phone number.
Q. Where is the Sonoma County Juvenile Dependency Court Room located (to observe court sessions during my training, or to appear for my child’s case)?
A. Appearing in court to observe a court session is the best way to prepare for your first court appearance. Please call for an appointment to appear in court, dress appropriately and let the office know when you have completed this part of your training by adding your visit to your monthly volunteer log.
Sonoma County Hall of Justice – Dependency Court Room
600 Administration Drive Room 249J
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Q. Do the Commissioners/Judges really read my reports and consider my opinions?
A. Yes, the judges understand that CASA volunteers have more time to get to know the child and provide the most up-to-date and accurate information about the child. This is invaluable to them in making the best possible decision for the child.
Q. What else does a CASA volunteer do besides visit the child?
A. CASA volunteers gather information and prepare reports regarding the best interests and needs of the child. CASA volunteers are legally appointed to their child and have access to confidential information such as school and medical records. They also help locate resources for the child.
Q: What kind of support would I have from the CASA staff?
A. CASA provides a Volunteer Supervisor for direct support. When you call for assistance, be sure to ask the receptionist for the “Volunteer Supervisor of the Day” before discussing your case. The Volunteer Supervisor is able to provide information about your child’s case, court information, reports and rules about the CASA program. You will also have staff available at the Mandatory 60- Day Case Review, which is required every 60 days. CASA will also be providing you information about continuing education, activities for you and your CASA youth, and other information that might concern your involvement with CASA. CASA also has 24 hour supervision available by calling the field line, which is 707-332-9427. If you forget this number remember you can call the office and an after-hours message will guide you.
Q. Where do the foster children live?
A. The foster children live in children’s homes, foster homes and group homes throughout Sonoma County. Some have been there just a few days, and have been there for several months. Getting to know the rules and behavioral programs in the home where your child is living is important. Always develop educated and meaningful relationships with the shelter workers and foster parents.
Q. What kinds of activities should I do with my CASA youth?
A. This will depend on the age and interests of the child, as well as your own interests and the guidelines of their caregivers. Community work and community events are a great way to engage children in healthy and meaningful activities. Volunteer together, go to the library, work out together by walking or joining the YMCA or YWCA. If you are working with a teen, you might spend time walking around the mall or playing ball. If you are working with a younger child you might go to the park, play a game, build a model, Go for a walk, have a picnic, or read. Of course youth love going to a movie or out for pizza, but playing a game or just window shopping also can be fun. A phone call goes along way to help youth feel connected on those days you can not see the youth. If you are on vacation and can not call, you might send a postcard. Also watch our website, your email and snail mail– CASA is always offering activities and ideas for fun with youth. Visit our events and activities pages.
Q. May I give gifts to my youth?
A. Sonoma CASA discourages extravagant gift giving. However, modest gifts are allowed on birthdays and special holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Always consider what is allowed / not allowed at the place where they are living, and keep in mind if siblings are living in the home.
Q. May I take my child out of town or out of the county?
A. You may be able to with the permission of the CASA office and the social worker. You will need to complete a travel request form at the CASA office prior to any travel outside of Sonoma County. These forms are available at Case Reviews (“Case Review” has now been officially changed to “60 Day Mandatory Review”). Please note that volunteers are never allowed to keep children overnight.
Q. May I take my child to the beach?
A. Water sports and activities are one of the most risky recreational activities in which we can engage our children. It is very important that all activities around water obtain prior approval and the activity must be in approved areas where lifeguards are on duty. No exceptions please.
Q. Why can’t I take youth to my home, bring my family on a visit or take the youth to my place of employment?
A. The children you are working with are youth that may already have moms and dads. These youths are also looking for places to live and people to take care of them while they are away from their parents. When we engage the children with our families and take them to our homes we are crossing a fine line of becoming more of what the children see as foster parents or potential places to live. In some cases the children even see you as a potential adoptive parent. Therefore, we as a CASA program, have rules to help you keep your boundaries and have found that the line between an advocate and a potential foster parent is best kept as clean as possible These children have enough people letting them down, and we do not want to become one of these individuals. You are a youth advocate and you must keep your boundaries clean and your motivation for becoming involved objective and professional. We, as staff, do however want you to know that we realize our children have many needs. Please, always talk with a volunteer supervisor when your emotions become charged and you are feeling confused about the many rules we have as CASA volunteers.
Q. Why do the staff at group homes ask that I meet with my child two, three or four times before allowing us to go on an outing?
A. It is very appropriate and understandable that the staff require you to meet with the child on site several times before they will allow you to take the child off-site. Think about how you might feel being taken away by a complete stranger. Also, this time allows the staff to observe behaviors and to see how you interact with each other. It is very important that you also observe behaviors and know what to expect before leaving the site. We are thinking of your safety as well.
Q. What if I can’t be an Advocate but still want to help?
A. There are many other ways that you can help CASA. We often need help with special events, mailings, and fund raising activities. Call our office and find out what opportunities are available for you. Some of these activities are fun to do with your child, too. If you find that donating your time is not possible, a financial donation is always welcome. Please see our donation page for more information.