How Do CASA Volunteers Help Children?
Judges appoint CASA volunteers to be the "eyes and ears" of the court - to advocate for abused and neglected children so their needs don't get overlooked by the system. Volunteers make a two-year commitment to CASA, staying with their assigned child until their case is closed by the court and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence in their lives. Independent research has demonstrated that children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care (3 years or more) and less likely to re-enter care.
Who Are CASA Volunteers?
CASA volunteers are committed people from all walks of life who believe society has a fundamental obligation to abused and neglected children. They are people just like you! They are not required to be a lawyer or a social worker, nor are they required to have a specific degree in a child-serving profession. Volunteers must be at least 21, pass all criminal and child abuse clearances and complete 30 hours of pre-service training. Last year, nearly 85 CASA volunteers advocated for 250 abused and neglected children in Philadelphia.
Who Are the Children CASA Volunteers Help?
Judges appoint CASA volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse and/or neglect. CASA is appointed to children ranging in age from birth to 18, and can advocate for children up to age 21. There are approximately 5,800 children in Philadelphia's foster care system and, since there are not enough CASA volunteers to advocate for every child, judges typically assign CASA volunteers to the most difficult cases.
How Did the CASA Movement Begin?
In 1977, a Seattle judge named David Soukup conceived the idea of appointing volunteer citizens to "be a voice for the voiceless." Concerned about making critical decisions with insufficient information, Judge Soukup appointed trained volunteer advocates to speak up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. Since then, CASA has grown a network of 950 state and local programs across the country.
What is an Educational Decision Maker (EDM) Volunteer?
By law, the person making educational decisions for a dependent child is typically a parent/guardian, kinship caregiver, foster parent or close family member. However, some children do not have a person like this in their life, especially kids in congregate care settings (group home/institution) whose parental rights have been terminated by the court. A CASA Educational Decision Maker (EDM) is a volunteer who has received the regular CASA pre-service training, in addition to extra EDM training related to the educational rights and needs of children in foster care. Judges appoint CASA to be a child’s EDM because: 1) there is no pool of EDMs for the court to appoint, and 2) CASA has an excellent track record of recruiting, training and supporting community volunteers to advocate on behalf of children in foster care.
When are EDM volunteers appointed?
Family Court Judges appoint an EDM if the court determines: 1) it is in the best interest of the child to limit the decision-making rights of the parent/guardian, or 2) the child does not have an active, informed educational decision maker. Appointing an EDM should always be a last resort. Court should not appoint an EDM if there is a parent, guardian or other authorized person ready, willing and available. Disagreement with a parent’s decision not to accept certain services, to decline to evaluate a child or disagree to placing a child in a more restrictive setting is NOT grounds for appointing an EDM.
Who can be an EDM?
Preference is given to the child’s parent/guardian. The following people may be appointed as a child’s EDM: family member, family friend, mentor, foster parent, former foster parent and CASA EDM volunteer.
How does the role of the EDM volunteer differ from the role of the CASA volunteer?
- Address a child’s permanency, safety, well being, health and education.
- Review records, including physical health, mental health and education.
- Meet with the child in their foster care placement at least once per month.
- Submit written court reports with recommendations for the child’s best interests.
- Attend all court hearings.
- Are the actual decision-maker for a child’s educational rights and services.
- Address a child’s educational needs only.
- Only have the right to review education records.
- Are only required to see the child in their school setting when necessary.
- Attend court as necessary and are not required to submit a written report.
May I become both a CASA and EDM volunteer?
Yes, you may train to become both a CASA and EDM volunteer. We require that all of our volunteers complete the standard National CASA pre-service training and then take an additional two-hour EDM training to qualify to be an EDM volunteer. You may decide to become a CASA volunteer, EDM volunteer, or both after your training is completed.