Nebraska's Tool Kit for Systems Involved in the Education of Students in Out-of-Home Care

Tool C-1:  Frequently Asked Questions
Court-Appointed Special Advocate Volunteers

Part Two: Child Welfare System
Section C. Court-Appointed Special Advocate Volunteers

three young girls smilingThe following summarizes questions about Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers often posed by the primary systems involved in the education of students in out-of-home care.  The responses are based on national CASA Guidelines, Nebraska statute and administrative rules and regulations.  While statutory law, rules and regulations may address these topics in general terms, each local CASA Program has policies and procedures that govern actual practice.  Familiarity and discussion with the CASA volunteer regarding his or her role in working with a particular child or youth under a specific set of circumstances is recommended as a matter of “best practice” and may greatly assist in advocating for that student and achievement of his or her academic and vocational goals.

For more information on Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteers, refer to the Court-Appointed Special Advocate Act as provided in Nebraska Revised Statute (NRS) 43-3701 to 43-3716.  Additional information is available via the Nebraska CASA Association website:  www.nebraskacasa.org and the National CASA Association website: www.casaforchildren.org

Court-Appointed Special Advocate Volunteers


  1. Who is a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer?
    A Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer is an individual from the community who is appointed by the Juvenile Court Judge to speak in court for the safety and well-being of an abused or neglected child or youth.  By serving as an independent investigator and advocate for the child’s best interests so he or she can thrive in a safe permanent home, the CASA volunteer may make all the difference in the child’s life. CASA volunteers come from all walks of life.  Approximately half of those in the United States work full-time. CASA volunteers are well supported by local CASA Program staff with professional backgrounds in the legal field and child welfare system.  Judges, attorneys, child welfare and juvenile justice professionals, parents and out-of-home caregivers overwhelmingly report that CASA volunteers make a significant difference in the lives of the children and youth they serve.

  1. How does someone become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer?
    To become a CASA volunteer, an individual must meet the following minimum qualifications:

    • Be at least twenty-one (21) years of age or older (some exceptions are allowed for students);
    • Demonstrate an interest in children and their welfare;
    • Possess written and verbal skills;
    • Be willing to donate approximately six (6) to ten (10) hours per month;
    • Be willing to commit to serve as a CASA volunteer for a minimum of one (1) year;
    • Complete and submit an application with at least three (3) references;
    • Undergo a complete criminal history check, Child Abuse Registry check, and driving record check;
    • Participate in a screening interview with the local CASA Program Director or designated staff; and
    • Attend a minimum of thirty (30) hours of pre-service training through the local CASA Program prior to being assigned to a case, with an additional twelve (12) hours of in-service training required annually.

    Upon successful completion of the pre-service training, the CASA volunteer is sworn in by the Juvenile Court Judge, promising to maintain strict confidentiality, objectivity and professionalism in dealing with children, parents and all other parties involved in the case throughout their appointment as a CASA volunteer.  The CASA volunteer is then appointed to a specific case by the judge through a court order.  (Source:  Nebraska Revised Statute 43-3701 to 43-3716)

  1. What do Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteers do?
    The CASA volunteer acts as an arm of the Juvenile Court, serving as a researcher, monitor and child advocate.  The CASA volunteer works with the child’s Guardian Ad Litem (attorney) to ensure his or her safety, well-being and best interests are represented and protected.  The CASA volunteer is responsible for the following:

    • Upon appointment to a specific case, conducting an independent examination which provides factual information to the Juvenile Court regarding the child, his or her best interests, and the family.  This may include:
      • Interviews with and observation of the child;
      • Interviews with the family;
      • Interviews with other appropriate individuals such as foster parents, relatives, service providers, counselors, teachers, social workers and others involved in the case;
      • Review of relevant records and reports; and
      • Visiting the foster home, group home, residential program or institution where the child is or may be placed.
    • Determining if an appropriate Permanency Plan has been created for the child, whether appropriate services are being provided to the child and the family, and whether the Treatment Plan is progressing in a timely manner.
    • Preparing and submitting a written report to the Juvenile Court and all involved parties prior to a court hearing, which includes recommendations consistent with the best interests of the child regarding out-of-home placement, visitation and appropriate services for the child and the family.
    • Monitoring the Juvenile Court’s orders and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ (NDHHS) Case Plan to ensure the child’s essential needs are being met, services are being furnished in a timely manner, the out-of-home placement is appropriate, and the Case Plan is being followed and serves the best interests of the child.
    • Appearing in court, as needed, to answer questions or testify on findings and recommendations as well as attending other meetings and proceedings concerning the child.
    • Maintaining contact with the local CASA Program Director or designated staff and submitting all required documentation in a timely manner.  (Source:  Nebraska Revised Statute 43-3712)

Local Court-Appointed Special Advocate Programs


  1. What makes Court-Appointed Special Advocate Programs unique?
    The CASA Program is the only program where everyday citizens are appointed and sworn in by a judge to speak on behalf of a child’s safety, well-being and best interests.

  1. What is the difference between a Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer and a local Foster Care Review Board?
    A CASA volunteer works directly with the child in each case to which he or she is assigned by the Juvenile Court judge.  The CASA volunteer interviews and gets to know the child’s family, caregiver, service providers and others involved in the case.

    A local Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) is a panel of individuals who review reports organized by a FCRB Review Specialist. While they listen to the out-of-home caregiver, service providers and other involved parties who attend the FCRB Review Hearing, they seldom see the child in person.  The CASA volunteer typically participates in FCRB Review Hearings, providing case updates and evaluative information.

  1. Are Court-Appointed Special Advocate Programs available to assist abused or neglected children and youth throughout Nebraska?
    There are local CASA Programs located in approximately a third of Nebraska’s counties.

    For more information about Nebraska Counties With or Without CASA Programs, refer to the CASA Programs Map available on the Nebraska CASA Association website: http://www.nebraskacasa.org/main_sublinks.asp?id=3&sid=12
  1. How can I contact the local Court-Appointed Special Advocate Program in my area?

    Contact Information on Local CASA Programs is available in the Nebraska CASA Association’s Local Programs Directory via their website:  http://www.nebraskacasa.org/main.asp?id=3 or call toll-free:  1-800-788-4772

Child Advocacy in the Court System


  1. Why does a child need a Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer?
    Abused and neglected children are involved in the Child Welfare Court system through no fault of their own.  A CASA volunteer helps keep child welfare professionals and the Juvenile Court’s focus on the safety and well-being of the child, ensuring his or her needs and best interests are heard, protected and addressed.  Children and youth in out-of-home care may experience multiple changes in caseworkers, service providers, out-of-home placements and schools.  The CASA volunteer commits to staying with the child for at least one (1) year, often remaining until the case is terminated by the Juvenile Court.  The CASA volunteer provides a sense of consistency and stability for a child whose world seems to be constantly changing.

  1. What are the primary benefits for a child in having a Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer?
    Research indicates children with CASA volunteers typically experience the following beneficial outcomes:

    • Children with a CASA volunteer are half as likely to spend time in long-term foster care, defined as more than three (3) years in out-of-home placements.
    • Cases involving a CASA volunteer are more likely to be permanently closed, with fewer than 10% of these children re-entering the foster care system.
    • CASA volunteers spend most of their time in direct contact with the child, generally handling only one or two cases at time.  This allows the CASA to give each child the sustained personal attention he or she needs and deserves.  To the child, that translates into a consistent and caring adult presence in his or her life.
    • The median length of stay in out-of-home care for a child with a CASA volunteer is shortened by an average of four (4) months.
    In addition to the benefits noted above, CASA Programs save taxpayer dollars.  Nebraska State Foster Care Review Board statistics indicate if the median length of stay in out-of-home care is shortened by just one (1) month, this results in a savings of approximately $12.5 million per year to Nebraska taxpayers.

  1. Why does a child need a Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer when he or she already has a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), NDHHS Caseworker and/or contractual Service Coordinator?
    Attorneys serving as Guardians Ad Litem, NDHHS Caseworkers and Service Coordinators often have too many cases which may make it physically impossible to be in all the places necessary for that number of children and youth.  A CASA volunteer works with a maximum of two (2) cases at a time so is able to give concentrated and full attention to each child and family.  Judges report they rely heavily on information from CASA volunteers charged with serving as the “eyes and ears” of the Juvenile Court.

Advocacy in the Schools


  1. What is the Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer’s role in a student’s education and in working with the school? CASA volunteers may attend school-related meetings on behalf of the child they have been assigned to by the Juvenile Court Judge.  The CASA volunteer contacts the student’s teachers and School Counselor to gather information about the child’s school performance and request grade reports on a regular basis.  This information is passed on to the Juvenile Court Judge presiding over the case.  CASA volunteers can also help with ensuring appropriate education programs, services and evaluations are requested and implemented, especially if the student changes school due to out-of-home placement.

  1. What information can a school share with a Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer?
    Each CASA volunteer is appointed by court order, which includes the authority to review any school records containing personally identifiable information pertaining to the student whose case he or she has been assigned.

 

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