A CASA volunteer is a community volunteer who is recruited and trained to act as a first-hand expert and appointed as an officer of the court to advocate for the individual needs of specific children in the Department of Child Services system due to abuse or neglect, giving them the best possible chance at a hopeful future. A Juvenile Court Judge appoints CASAs to represent the best interest of specific abused or neglected children in court proceedings. A CASA volunteer will work with attorneys, mental health professionals, and service providers to meet the needs of these children and help them find safe permanent homes.
Our judges assign SEI Voices for Children at all the initial hearings involving our children. First, our program triages the child's case through a Wellness Program Score sheet. Then the Lead Volunteer Coordinator assigns it to a CASA volunteer that will best serve that specific child.
The 2020 report stated that 93,225 CASA/GAL volunteers advocated for 243,236 children in the system nationally. For example, in Ripley County, Indiana, SEI Voices for children served over 160 child victims in 2020.
CASA volunteers undergo a thorough training and development program that consists of at least 30 hours of pre-service training, followed by 12 hours of yearly in-service training. Volunteers learn about courtroom procedures from the principals in the system – judges, lawyers, social workers, court personnel, and others. CASA volunteers also learn effective advocacy techniques for children. In addition, they are educated about specific topics ranging from seminars on child sexual abuse to discussions on early childhood development and adolescent behavior.
After the initial training, volunteers are sworn in as Officers of the Court. This gives them the legal authority to research the child's situation and submit reports to the court.
Does a CASA need legal knowledge or expertise?
No. CASAs are valuable because they come from all walks of life and can draw on various professional and personal experiences. Most importantly, they are responsible, caring adults with good common sense. However, while you may initially have little legal knowledge, you’ll learn much about the legal process and Juvenile Court System through your CASA volunteer training, experience, and support of SEI Voices Staff.
Voices for Children is certified by the State of Indiana CASA/GAL program. This means we adhere to all standards and best practices set forward by our state office, which is located underneath the umbrella of the Indiana Supreme Court. It means we have support, at a state level, for questions or issues that may arise in our cases or our programs. We turn in our data to the state quarterly. A CASA program in Indiana has the choice as to whether they will apply for this certification and adhere to the policies. Voices for Children is proud to be a member of this great organization.
In addition to our certification by the State of Indiana, Voices is also a member of the National CASA Program. The 954 local and State member CASA program offices adhere to national standards set by National CASA and are required to pass a quality assurance review administered every four years. This self-assessment is a course of action taken by local programs to evaluate and improve their operations.
Staff teams work together to answer 446 questions and gather 58 supporting documents for submission to National CASA. Professionals outside the CASA network determine overall compliance by independently reviewing the standards self-assessment instrument and supporting documentation. Programs must address any compliance concerns within six months to maintain CASA membership.
As a certified program of the State of Indiana CASA/GAL, we receive funding from Grants such as the State of Indiana called "Matching Grants." This amount is one number for the State of Indiana to cover CASA/GAL programs for 88 counties in the State. Each program's amount is prorated based on the number of CHINS (Child In Need of Services) cases filed in the previous calendar year. Our program has received approximately $20,000 yearly for the past few years. In addition to this portion from the State, the courts we serve are also required to "match" the amount the State provides. This means we receive funding from Ripley County Circuit Court. SEI Voices for Children also applied and was rewarded a VOCA (Victim Of Crime Act) victim assistance Grant. Unfortunately, this Grant is significantly lower than in previous years due to a decline in funding.
We do not receive additional operating funds besides the Grants we are rewarded. Since we are a 501c3, we are responsible for fundraising to supplement our operating costs.
The median cost per child is $1,500.00 annually, which covers recruiting, training, and supporting volunteers to advocate for the child.