Roles and Responsibilities:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 7 of 12
On a monthly basis, what does a CASA volunteer do?
Now that a volunteer has been appointed as a Guardian ad Litem (see previous blog entry), they have the legal access to all of the information they need to begin advocating for the child or children on the case.
Each volunteer serves as an advocate in their own unique way, but National CASA, Texas CASA, and our own local CASA program have minimum standards that each volunteer adheres to. The standards ensure that every child is visited, caregivers are contacted, and the overall integrity of the CASA Volunteer is upheld. These standards include guidelines for monthly contact with every child and the adults involved in the case:
- In a timely manner after appointment, obtain first hand a clear understanding of the needs and situation of the child by reviewing all relevant documents and records and interviewing the child, parents, social workers, teachers and other persons to determine the facts and circumstances of the child’s situation.
- Communicate with the CPS caseworker and at least one time per month for the duration of the case.
- Meet the child(ren) in a timely manner after appointment and meet in person with the child(ren) at least one time per month
- Have other types of age-appropriate contact with the child(ren) including telephone calls, emails, and/or letters as applicable for the child’s age and interests.
- Meet in person with the child’s primary placement provider in a timely manner after placement occurs, and communicate with the placement provider at least once a month thereafter for the duration of the assignment of the child’s case.
- Advocate in the community for the child(ren)’s best interest by interfacing with mental health, medical, legal, educational and other community systems to assure that the child(ren)’s needs in these areas are met.
- On each case, assigned CASA staff and CASA volunteers will communicate at least once a month so as to update records and contact logs and participate together in scheduled case conferences.
Using these guidelines and status as a legal guardian, each volunteer makes contacts, visits and inquiries based on the needs of the child on the case. For some children, once a month contact is sufficient. Other children and volunteers prefer more frequent visits. Visits may be done in the child’s placement (foster home, shelter, treatment center), at their school, on an outing together, or in another appropriate setting. The goals of the visit are to bond, get information about how the child is doing, and to show the child that someone is thinking about them.
Monthly contact must also be made with the child’s CPS caseworker to make sure the CASA volunteer has up-to-date information about the case, and for the volunteer to share anything they might have learned through a recent visit with the child or caregiver.
The CASA Volunteer must also communicate monthly with the child’s placement. This can be done during a visit with the child in their placement, or it can be though a telephone call. The goal of this monthly check in is to find out from the day-to-day caregiver anything that is working well in the home, and if there are any concerns that need to be addressed.
Depending on the child’s needs, more visits and contacts will be made each month. For example, if a child is enrolled in therapy, the CASA Volunteer will connect with the therapist each month and get an update. If there is a concern for the child’s education, the CASA Volunteer will contact or meet with teachers and school officials to ensure special needs are being met.
Volunteers may also keep monthly contact with other involved in the case including parents and siblings of the child, the child’s attorney and anyone else who can help provide a full picture for the child’s life and needs.
This information is all documented each month and shared with the CASA Supervisor as a sounding board and to get guidance on moving forward with the case. About once every three months, a court hearing is held and the volunteer uses all of the information they gathered from these monthly visits and contacts to make recommendations to the judge, about the child’s best interests.
Although CASA has minimum standards, each case will look different, and that is why our volunteers and their unique backgrounds and perspectives are valued. I always say, we need ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and CASA Volunteers are just that.
Next month, I will share about the impact a volunteer can have, in part eight of our series, The Real Impact: Real stories of volunteers making a difference for the children and youth.
CASA is Appointed:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 6 of 12
How a judge involves CASA, the role of Guardian ad Litem, the CASA volunteer-supervisor team.
In Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties, CASA is appointed to children and youth as a Guardian ad Litem, or GAL. The term GAL refers to the legal status of the CASA volunteer’s position and can be translated to Legal Guardian for the Court’s purposes only. Following the laws of the Texas Family Code, with this appointment, CASA volunteers have legal access to the children and their caregivers, as well as documents and information relevant to the child’s well-being just as would a parent or legal guardian. The GAL is appointed for the purposes of this particular court case to represent the best interests of the child. (Note, the words “child” and “children” in this blog are used broadly to include babies, children, youth ,and young adults, ages from birth to 21 years.)
The judge who oversees the Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) has the authority to appoint CASA. Anyone can ask the judge to appoint CASA to the case — the Child Protective Services caseworker, the child’s attorney, parents, or anyone else who feels the child would benefit from a special advocate on the case.
Some children who are involved in the child welfare system remain in their parent’s home and care while the case is open. However, if abuse has been severe, or if the judge decides the home is a high risk situation, the judge will order the parent’s rights to be temporarily restricted and the children will be brought into State protective custody. Typically, it is on these cases when a child is placed in foster or State care that judges will appoint CASA.
When CASA is appointed to a case, a staff Case Supervisor is assigned to oversee the case management and ensure that quality service standards are upheld. The Case Supervisor consults with the Training Coordinator to identify which available volunteer would be the best fit for the case. That volunteer is contacted and offered the case. The volunteer can then accept and meet with the supervisor who provides an overview and a starting point as well as ongoing guidance and support for the duration of the case.
CASA of Central Texas standards state that for every 25 volunteers, there must be a staff Case Supervisor to support and oversee those volunteers. By limiting the maximum ratio, we ensure that each supervisor has the time to provide adequate attention to each case and generous support to each volunteer. The Case Supervisor guides the volunteer through casework, providing both practical guidance and emotional support.
The Case Supervisor and the CASA Volunteer work as a team, and a volunteer is never alone. Our goal is to ensure that every volunteer has the tools and support to remain on their case until there is resolution for the child. Together, the CASA team works to ensure that each child’s best interests are represented, that each child has the services needed for placement, education, medical and mental health care, and that each child eventually finds a safe and stable home, out of the child welfare system.
Next month, learn how appointed volunteers spend their time advocating for children in part seven of our series, Roles and Responsibilities: On a monthly basis, what does a CASA volunteer do?
Volunteers Step Forward:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 5 of 12
Why CASA volunteers are qualified to advocate for children, background checks and training.
Advocating for children who were abused and are now in the child welfare system is a responsibility that we take seriously. It is a privilege for me to be a part of this organization and be surrounded by caring, dedicated community members who give their time and hearts to the children. But, before volunteer service begins, CASA has the responsibility to make sure volunteers are properly screened and trained, so that highly qualified individuals are assigned to the court and the children in our care.
Our screening process begins with an application form which provides a snapshot of a prospective volunteer. Also included are consent forms for background checks which include a DFPS Abuse & Neglect Registry check and a driving record check. CASA also requires our prospective volunteers to have their fingerprints run by the federal government for a criminal history check. We also ask for 5 personal references.
After CASA receives a completed application packet, the prospective volunteer is scheduled for a one-on-one interview with our trainer. This is where CASA gets to know the volunteer on a more personal level. What are their motivations for volunteering, what are their concerns about getting involved with abused children, what personal experiences might have effects, positive or negative, on their duties as a volunteer? We want to ensure volunteers are self-aware of biases and triggers so that they can practice self-care and so that we can be informed when matching a case assignment to them. CASA staff is trained to identify red flags, and also to get a feel for which cases a volunteer might be most appropriate for.
After initial screening, training begins. Our traditional training format is a 4-hour session once a week for five weeks. Between classes, outside reading and homework is required which then leads to group discussion. Training curriculum aims to teach about the court system, child abuse and neglect, the role of the CASA volunteer, the roles of various parties on the case, how to advocate for a child, and much more. Although specific topics are covered, classroom time is often led by conversation from trainees, looking at case studies and discussing options for advocacy.
Here are the main topics that a prospective volunteer can expect from CASA’s pre-service training:
Chapter 1: Introducing the CASA Volunteer Role
Understanding Child Abuse & Neglect and Principles & Concepts That Guide CASA/GAL Volunteer Work
Chapter 2: Introducing the Law, the Child Protection System & the Courts
The Development of Child Abuse & Neglect Laws, Introducing CPS & the Court Process and The Roles in a Juvenile Court Case
Chapter 3: Developing Cultural Competence
Diversity, Cultural Heritage, Personal Values, Culturally Competent Child Advocacy and Developing an Action Plan
Chapter 4: Understanding Families – Part 1
Family Strengths, Understanding Families Through Culture, Stress in Families, Risk Factors for Child Abuse & Neglect, The Impact of Mental Illness on Children & Families and The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children & Families
Chapter 5: Understanding Families – Part 2
The Impact of Substance Abuse/Addiction on Children & Families, Poverty – The Facts for Children and The Importance of Family to a Child
Chapter 6: Understanding Children
The Needs of Children, How Children Grow & Develop, Attachment & Resilience, Separation, Permanence for Children and Psychological & Educational Issues for Children
Chapter 7: Communicating as a CASA Volunteer
Developing Communication Skills, Communicating with Children, Dealing with Conflict and Understanding Confidentiality
Chapter 8: Practicing the CASA Volunteer Role – Gathering Information
CASA/GAL Volunteer Is Appointed to a Case, Planning the Investigation & Gathering Information, A Successful CASA/GAL Volunteer Interview and Investigating a Case
In addition to training in the classroom, our course also includes six hours of courtroom observation to give the volunteer a glimpse into what their role will be. It gives them a tangible look at how volunteers can make an impact. They see real cases, hear from all parties including CASA, and observe how CASA’s recommendations can lead to actions from the judge.
The final step in our pre-service screening and training is a second interview between the volunteer and the CASA trainer. This is again a one-on-one conversation that debriefs the volunteer and gives both the volunteer and staff a chance to discuss any concerns that may have come up during training. It also gives the volunteer a chance, now that they have been through training, to discuss what type of case they believe they would be most effective on. This can include factors such as ages of the children, type of abuse, location of child, other concerns and also areas they feel especially qualified.
After all of their hard work in training, totaling 40-42 hours over about a two month period, new CASA volunteers take an oath given by a judge in a swearing-in ceremony. The volunteer is now officially ready to be assigned to a case!
Next month, learn how CASA volunteers make a difference inside the courtroom and between court hearings in part six of our series, CASA is Appointed: How a judge involves CASA, the role of Guardian ad Litem, the CASA volunteer-supervisor team.
The CASA Story:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 4 of 12
Why and how CASA was created, CASA of Central Texas milestones
In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge was concerned about making important decisions without sufficient information about the children. He conceived an idea of having trained citizen volunteers speak up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom.
When he was assigned to juvenile court, Judge David Soukup was overwhelmed with the responsibility of making life impacting decisions for children. He recalls one case in particular about a little girl named Sarah who was brought into court because her mother allegedly had physically abused her. Sarah had a broken arm and multiple bruises.
“When I left juvenile court at the end of the day, I knew I was going to wake up at 4 o’clock the next morning thinking about Sarah and two or three other kids that I had seen that day. So I got the idea of recruiting and training community volunteers to appear in court, investigate the cases and give me recommendations about what was best for these kids.”
He created the first group of trained CASA volunteers and since then, Court Appointed Special Advocates has spread across the country to 49 states and nearly 1,000 programs.
CASA of Central Texas was the second CASA program in Texas. In 1984, in New Braunfels, a grass roots effort sprang to life with a group of individuals whose professions allowed them to see what Judge Soukup had experienced. They saw children who were victims of abuse being victimized again by adult rules, guidelines, red tape, and lack of understanding, time and funds. These doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officials and social workers planned a solution to the growing number of child abuse cases and the number of children who kept falling through the cracks of the child welfare system that was supposed to protect them. The formation of a child advocacy program was proposed and Comal County Child Advocacy was incorporated on March 13, 1985.
“The child advocate protects and advances the interests of the child, and prevents as much trauma as possible,” said David Pfeuffer, one of the CASA of Central Texas Founders. “God Bless those who volunteer their time and talents for this critical work.”
After becoming affiliated with the National CASA program, our local program acquired a non-profit 501(c)(3) status. The mission was to follow in the steps of the original CASA program model and recruit and train volunteers who would provide an objective viewpoint in civil child protection court cases. There were 18 advocates who completed the first training class. By 1994, our program expanded from Comal into Hays and Caldwell counties and the program name was changed to CASA of Central Texas. The program expanded into its fourth county, Guadalupe, in 1996. CASA of Central Texas now has two office locations- New Braunfels and San Marcos.
We are located in a high growth, semi-rural, mixed-income region between two major cities in Texas – Austin and San Antonio. By 2016, our organization had steadily grown to 218 volunteers and 22 staff members, who served 497 children in that year. A great accomplishment, but just 42% of children who needed an advocate.
We continue today with our mission to advocate for abused and neglected children in the courts and child welfare system by recruiting, training, and supporting community volunteers. More of these volunteers are needed to help us reach our goal of providing a CASA volunteer to every child in state care. Can you help CASA reach this goal?
Next month, learn what a volunteer does to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate in part five of our series, Volunteers Step Forward: Why CASA volunteers are qualified to advocate for children, background checks and training.
iN THE cOURTROOM
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 3 of 12
Who is involved in a CPS case, what are their roles, how often does this happen?
In 2016 in our four-county service area of Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties, CASA again saw an increase in the number of children being removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. Not only did Child Protective Services and the Family Court Judges confirm abuse was happening in the home, but for 1,190 children in Central Texas, it was decided the risk was so high and the abuse was so severe, that they had to be brought into the State’s protective care.
When a child is removed from home, parent’s rights are temporarily restricted and the State of Texas becomes the legal guardian of the child, referred to as “Temporary Managing Conservatorship.” As the parents work to create a safe and stable home for the children to return to, the court ensures that CPS is meeting the needs of the child – things like medical care, mental health care, and educational services.
The Judge in the courtroom has the responsibility of making decisions on legal actions applying to the children and parents. The Judge listens to everyone’s testimony and uses the provided information to make decisions on questions such as where and with whom the child lives, when and how often visitation occurs with parents, and, ultimately, if and when it is safe to return a child to the home.
Many people are present in the courtroom to provide testimony from various perspectives. Child Protective Services assigns a Caseworker to each child. This Caseworker is responsible for making sure all services are in place and that each child’s individual needs are being addressed. They provide referrals and connections to services in the community. They are the front-line connection from CPS to the child. CPS is also represented in court by their attorney.
Each parent is usually present and often represented by an attorney since these are legal proceedings against them. If there is more than one parent, there may be one attorney for each parent. If a sibling group is involved, there may be multiple parents and multiple attorneys. Each attorney represents their own client’s wishes.
Also, by State law, a special attorney known as an Attorney ad Litem is appointed to each child for the purpose of representing the child’s desires since minor children cannot make legal decisions or legally represent themselves in court. Our State laws also require that each child be appointed a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the child. The Attorney ad Litem can sometimes fulfill both roles. However, in many cases, what the child wants is not what is in their best interests.
This is where CASA comes in. When that conflict occurs, a separate Guardian ad Litem must be appointed. A GAL may also be appointed if a judge needs additional insight or if a child needs a caring adult to be the eyes-and-ears and hands-and-feet. Under our State laws, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is the only organization that may be appointed as a child’s Guardian ad Litem. We have a program model developed by a family court judge along with a history of proven effectiveness. A CASA is a community volunteer who has a heart for helping children and who takes 40+ hours of training to become certified to appear at court hearings, in schools and in the community to advocate on behalf of a child.
Also sometimes present in the court room are caregivers or service providers who have information that the judge needs to hear in order to make the best decisions for the child. These people might include foster parents, teachers, therapists, doctors, and others who have contact with the child. Service providers for the parents, such as therapists, may also attend hearings if their information is relevant to the case.
In all proceedings and throughout the entire process, CASA helps to keep the primary focus on the child and his or her best interests. Court hearings are held about 4-6 times during the 12-18 month period which is given for legal resolution, but CASA volunteers actively “work their cases” between hearings. CASA helps identify gaps in the services needed to ensure a child’s return to a safe and stable home. And when it is not safe, CASA helps to identify other options such as placement with safe relatives or adoption by new “forever” families. CASA a consistent connection, an independent researcher, and a source of critical information. For the child, CASA gives a voice, protects their well-being, prevents re-abuse and gives them an opportunity to thrive.
In 2016, almost 500 children had a CASA volunteer standing by their side in the courtrooms of Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties. But, almost 700 other children did not. These children still need a CASA. Will you help?
Next month, learn about the judge who started the CASA movement and how CASA of Central Texas has grown over the last 32 years. Watch for part four of our series, The CASA Story: Why and how CASA was created, CASA of Central Texas milestones.
A CPS Case opens
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 2 of 12
Investigation by Child Protective Services, why a child is removed from their home, what parents are required to do.
In Texas, every person is required by law to report suspected child abuse to the state intake center. From there, using the information provided, reports of child abuse or neglect are classified in one of two priority groups and the priority of the intake determines how quickly an investigation begins. Trained intake staff assign the appropriate priority based on the information available at the time they get the report.
Priority I reports include all reports of children who appear to face an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm. Investigations of these reports must start within 24 hours of receiving the call report.
Priority II reports include all reports of abuse or neglect that are not assigned as Priority I. These investigations must start within 72 hours of receiving the report.
Once the report has been processed, Child Protective Services investigators are assigned to the case. In a CPS investigation, a caseworker may interview family members and others with knowledge to get enough information to make safety decisions. At the end of the investigation, CPS makes a ruling on each allegation. This ruling is called a disposition. There are several disposition outcomes, but one that affirms the abuse is Reason To Believe: Abuse or neglect occurred based on a preponderance of the evidence. This means when all evidence is weighed, it is more likely than not that abuse or neglect occurred.
Not all abuse outcomes result in children being removed from the home. If the judge believes the children can remain safe in the home while allegations are being addressed, it may be determined it is best for them to not be taken out of their home. However, CPS may go to court to remove children from their homes if it believes children have been abused or neglected or are at risk of future abuses or neglect and they need to be removed for their protection. If a judge decides that a child needs to be removed, the child may go into foster care.
The court holds an adversary hearing within 14 days of a child being removed from the home. The adversary hearing is a parent’s chance to present their view of what happened and how the child can be protected now. At this hearing, the judge decides whether to return a child or if the child would still be at risk of continued abuse or neglect in their parent’s care. If the judge does not return the child, he or she may be placed with a relative or close family friend if they are appropriate, available, and willing to help. Otherwise, the child will stay in foster care.
The case must reach resolution within a year of the child’s removal. Next month, learn more about what happens when abuse allegations are confirmed and a CPS case is opened. Watch for part 3 of our series, In the Courtroom: Who is involved in a CPS case, what are their roles, how often does this happen?
An Unsafe Home
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 1 of 12
What a child experiences in an abusive home, recognizing different types of abuse, how abuse affects children.
Although included in a type of abuse, physical harm is not the only type of child abuse. According to the Department of Family and Protective Services, the affirmation of abuse can relate to four categories:
- Frequent injuries such as bruises, cuts, black eyes, or burns without adequate explanations
- Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury
- Burns or bruises in unusual patterns that may indicate the use of an instrument or human bite; cigarette burns on any part of the body
- Lack of reaction to pain
- Aggressive, disruptive, and destructive behavior
- Passive, withdrawn, and emotionless behavior
- Fear of going home or seeing parents
- Injuries that appear after a child has not been seen for several days
- Unreasonable clothing that may hide injuries to arms or legs
- Obvious malnourishment
- Lack of personal cleanliness
- Torn or dirty clothing
- Stealing or begging for food
- Child unattended for long periods of time
- Need for glasses, dental care, or other medical attention
- Frequent tardiness or absence from school
- Physical signs of sexually transmitted diseases
- Evidence of injury to the genital area
- Pregnancy in a young girl
- Difficulty in sitting or walking
- Extreme fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex
- Sexual comments, behaviors or play
- Knowledge of sexual relations beyond what is expected for a child’s age
- Sexual victimization of other children
- Over compliance
- Low self-esteem
- Severe depression, anxiety, or aggression
- Difficulty making friends or doing things with other children
- Lagging in physical, emotional, and intellectual development
- Caregiver who belittles the child, withholds love, and seems unconcerned about the child’s problems
In addition to immediate effects abuse can cause on a child, the lasting effects from the physical harm, traumatic experiences, and disruption of their lives while in foster care can have an impact that will be present even after a child is placed in a permanent, safe home.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, children who are victims of abuse and neglect often suffer from physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal consequences.
A Year in the Life of CASA
What a great year 2016 has been! We have so much to be thankful for as we enter the new year.
Throughout 2017, we will be sharing a deeper view of our world at CASA – the children we work with, the child welfare system, our CASA volunteers.
We will walk you through a year in a case of an abused child, with each month focusing on a theme and exploring all aspects of it. Our newsletter, social media and outreach will all be used to provide more information on each topic, all with the goal of learning more and more about our program.
I hope you will find this journey interesting, educational, and eye opening. Take a look at our topics, we look forward to kicking it off in January!
January – An Unsafe Home: What a child experiences in an abusive home, different types of abuse, how abuse affects children.
February – A CPS Case Opens: Investigation by Child Protective Services, why a child is removed from their home, what parents are required to do.
March – In the Courtroom: Who is involved in a CPS case, what are their roles, how often does this happen?
April – The CASA Story: Why and how CASA was created, CASA of Central Texas milestones.
May- Volunteers Step Forward: Why CASA volunteers are qualified to advocate for children, background checks and training.
June – CASA is Appointed: How a judge involves CASA, the role of Guardian ad Litem, the CASA volunteer-supervisor team.
July- Roles and Responsibilities: On a monthly basis, what does a CASA volunteer do?
August- The Real Impact: Real stories of volunteers making a difference for the children and youth.
September – Data Underscores the Need: Statistics, numbers, trends and projections.
October – Financial Support: Where and how CASA gets funding to continue serving the community and helping the children.
November – A CPS Case Closes: Various case outcomes for children and youth – safe, stable and loving homes.
December – Spread the Word: Share our message, help us find more volunteers and help more children in 2018.
Wishing all of our readers a safe and prosperous New Year!