What is CASA of Southwest Missouri?
CASA of Southwest Missouri is a private, nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and supports community volunteers who assist the court in protecting the best interests of abused and neglected children in Southwest Missouri.
Why is CASA needed?
In Greene and Christian Counties, there are over 1,000 children who are active with Juvenile Court because they have been abused or neglected. These children have overwhelmed our child welfare system to the point where caseworkers have high caseloads and attorneys have hundreds of child clients. Because of this, the professionals involved are often unable to offer the individualized attention that each child needs, and as child abuse cases are often complex, judges may feel that they are making decisions without complete information.
A CASA volunteer, being assigned to just one or two cases at a time, can focus on gathering all of the pertinent information, meet regularly with the children, and report their findings to the judge so that the Court can make an informed decision regarding a child’s future. The driving philosophy behind CASA is that a child has the right to a permanent, safe home, and CASAs work to challenge the system to formulate a long term permanent plan for each child in a timely manner.
What is a CASA Volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a specially-trained citizen appointed by the Juvenile Court judge to represent a child victim in cases of abuse and neglect. A CASA’s role in abuse and neglect proceedings is to present the court with a unique "child-centered" perspective regarding what is in the best interest of the child.
What does a CASA do?
Once appointed by a juvenile court judge, our CASA volunteers begin a process of information gathering with the goal of guiding abused children out of the foster care system, identifying the child’s needs, and ensuring rehabilitative services. They act as a communications link between the complicated pieces of the child welfare system. Volunteers gather all the pertinent information about their child’s case and make recommendations to the judge based on that information.
Volunteers provide a variety of services customized to meet each child’s needs. They assist in locating vital therapeutic and rehabilitative services for 100 percent of the children CASA serves to help them deal with the trauma of abuse. Services range from psychological treatment to educational assistance, to parent/family education. In addition, our volunteers make sure children receive special needs items such as eyeglasses, clothing, beds, tutoring, school supplies, backpacks, and other basic needs.
How long does a CASA volunteer remain involved with a case?
CASA volunteers are asked to make a commitment to stay with each case they assume until the case closes through reunification with the family, adoption, or "aging out” of the system.
What training does a CASA volunteer receive?
Each CASA volunteer must complete a comprehensive 30 hours of training. You will learn about child welfare system, how to work with children involved in the system cultural differences and effective advocacy techniques. Professionals from social service agencies, attorneys and judges participate with the CASA staff to share their expertise.
Once trained and assigned to a case, volunteers can choose from a range of options to satisfy the 12 hours of additional training that are required of advocates annually.
Who can be an Advocate?
There is no "typical" volunteer. CASA volunteers come from all walks of life with a variety of professional, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. CASA of Southwest Missouri volunteers includes computer technicians, retired executives, writers and editors, students and educators, realtors, health care professionals, mothers, fathers, and grandparents.
No special skills are required--only the desire and commitment to make a difference. Advocates must be 21 years old and are asked for a minimum commitment of two years in order to ensure stability and consistency for the children we serve.
Our volunteers range in age from 23 to 80 years old. Over 60 percent of our Advocates are working professionals.
The primary requirements for being a CASA volunteer are that you have a genuine interest in the well being of children, are a proactive communicator, and successfully complete our thorough screening and training course. CASA volunteers are objective, responsible, committed, and persistent and understand the important role they have in a child’s life.
Both men and women are needed as volunteers and you must be at least 21 years of age. We welcome volunteers with culturally-diverse backgrounds.
LGBTQ volunteers? Yes! As an organization, we value and celebrate the differences of our volunteers. We welcome and encourage community volunteers from/or allies with the LGBTQ+ community to serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are overrepresented in the foster care system. This makes a great opportunity to match volunteers with children and youth who are knowledgeable and compassionate in these areas to help our children and youth navigate their futures.
How much time does it require?
In the same amount of time you spend each week doing something ordinary, like attending dinner or watching a movie, you can do something extraordinary—change the life of an abused and neglected child.
Volunteers average 5-10 hours on their case per month. However, cases that are more complex may require more time researching and conducting interviews with involved parities. It is also possible, however, to be on a case that requires less time.
Who are the children in foster care?
Children are in foster care for a variety of reasons, namely abuse and neglect. Abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional harm to the child that causes them to be unsafe in their home. Neglect may include extremely unsanitary living conditions, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, and much more. Children in foster care may range in ages from newborn to 21 years old. They come from a variety of background situations, cultures, and family settings. In Greene and Christian Counties, there are over 1,000 children in the foster care system. The majority of children are in foster care due to chronic neglect, though we have seen an increase in physical and sexual abuse cases recently. There is an overrepresentation of children of color, as well as LGBTQ youth in foster care. CASA of Southwest Missouri recognizes the importance of understanding who are children are and ensuring that our CASA advocates are educated about the unique situations and backgrounds of the children and families we serve.
How many cases on average does a CASA carry at a time?
The average caseload for each CASA is one. However, we have some experienced volunteers who advocate on two cases.
How does a CASA research the case?
To prepare their recommendations for the court, CASA volunteers meet with the parents and other family members, social workers, school officials, healthcare professionals, and all others involved in the child's life. Most importantly, CASAs visit with the child(ren) at least once each month in order to gain a full understanding of the situation. While remaining objective, CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinions, feelings, and dreams.
How does the CASA volunteer relate to the child he or she represents?
CASA volunteers offer children a source of stability and trust during complex legal proceedings. They often explain to the child the meaning of the events and the role of all the involved parties. CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinions, feelings, and hope, while remaining objective observers.
How effective is the CASA of Southwest Missouri program?
Judges have noted the value of the information that CASA brings to the proceedings and are appreciative of the unique and unbiased perspective presented by CASA advocates. In addition, national studies show that a child who has been assigned a CASA volunteer spends less time in court and less time in foster care than those who do not have CASA representation.
How is CASA of Southwest Missouri funded?
As a private nonprofit, CASA relies on a diverse revenue base. We receive major support from foundations and the United Way. The balance comes from individual and corporate contributions, public grant monies, and revenue from CASA fundraising efforts.
How do I get more information on becoming a CASA/GAL volunteer?
Your first step to becoming a CASA is to complete an application. A link to the download can be found on the Volunteer menu. If you prefer, you can call our Program Supervisor, Rebecca Weber, at (417) 864-6202. Once you complete the application, you can expect someone from our staff to contact you to set up a face-to-face meeting where we can get to know each other better.
Can a Child Advocate really make a difference?
Research studies have shown that the introduction of just one caring adult in the life of an abused child can change the course of that child's life forever. With volunteer advocates, children who have known only hurt, rejection and disappointment from adults learn to trust, and hope, and love. A court appointed volunteer advocate makes a profound and positive difference for abused children.
What if I need help with my CASA child?
Each volunteer is continuously supported by and in contact with a professional and experienced Advocate Supervisor.
Volunteers work closely with an Advocate Supervisor who guides their casework and supports the efforts of the volunteer. Our staff members have expertise in working on behalf of abused children and are there to coach the volunteer through casework, court, working with the child and families, and all other aspects of their volunteer role. The CASA Volunteer/Advocate Supervisor team approaches the child’s case jointly, ensuring the best services are delivered to the child.
Are there other ways to help CASA besides being a child advocate?
Yes! Being a child advocate is not possible for everyone. There are so many ways that concerned community members can become involved with CASA. CASA of Southwest Missouri needs individuals who will help underwrite the program, special events, or projects with their donations (monetary and in-kind); who wish to assist in the office; and who are willing to tell others about our mission and vision. In addition, we welcome men and women from the community to fill vacancies (when they exist) on our board of directors or on organization and event committees. These are all critical to the success of our organization. CASA needs the support of the community for us to meet our goals and provide quality service to children.