What is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Philadelphia?
- CASA Philadelphia is a non-profit organization that trains and supports community volunteers as “sworn officers of the court” who advocate for the health, safety, stability and well-being of abused and neglected children in Philadelphia’s dependency court system.
What is a CASA volunteer?
- A CASA volunteer is a trained community member appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children who have been removed from their homes, placed in the foster care system and under the supervision of the Department of Human Services (Philadelphia County Children and Youth Agency).
What is the role of a CASA volunteer?
- To serve as the "eyes and ears of the court."
- To talk to children, parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers, foster parents and others involved in the child’s life.
- To review school and medical records, as well as documentation from service provider agencies.
- To get to know each child’s unique situation and provide informed, objective written reports and oral testimony at court hearings addressing the child’s best interests.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from a social service caseworker?
- Caseworkers are employees of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. Typically, they manage large caseloads and are limited in the amount of personal attention each child receives.
- CASA volunteers are assigned to one case at a time, allowing them to devote more time to the children assigned to them. They do not replace caseworkers, but are independent appointees of the court who complement caseworkers’ efforts to ensure children’s needs are met.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from a Child Advocate Attorney?
- CASA volunteers do not provide legal representation in the courtroom. They provide crucial background information and recommendations for the child’s best interests, which assist the child’s attorneys in presenting the case.
Can anyone be a CASA volunteer?
- CASA volunteers are people from all walks of life and backgrounds. No legal background is required. They are screened closely for objectivity, competence and commitment.
- CASA volunteers undergo 30 hours of pre-service training that addresses courtroom procedure, effective advocacy techniques for children, and specific topics ranging from early childhood growth and development to adolescent behavior.
- CASA volunteers are paired with a staff supervisor to support and guide advocacy efforts.
How much time is required for each case?
- Each case is unique so the amount of time required varies; on average 10-15 hours per month.
- CASA volunteers are asked to commit to their assigned case until permanently resolved; on average, cases are open for 24 months.
How many CASA programs are there?
- Nationally, there are more than 950 programs and 70,000 volunteers providing advocacy to abused and neglected children.
- Pennsylvania has approximately 20 active CASA programs.
Can a CASA volunteer be appointed to any case?
- In Philadelphia, CASA volunteers may only be appointed to cases where a child advocate is a private attorney from the Dependency Court Wheel (not an attorney from the Public Defender Child Advocacy Unit or Support Center for Child Advocates).
What is an Education Decision Maker (EDM)?
- 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.
What is a CASA Education Decision Maker?
- A CASA Education Decision Maker (EDM) is a CASA volunteer who has received additional training related to the educational rights and needs of children and youth in foster care.
- Judges appoint CASA to be a child’s EDM because1) there is no pool of EDM’s 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’s 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, and 2) the child does not have an active, informed educational decision maker.
Note: 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 dissent 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. However, 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 CASA EDM differ from the role of the CASA Volunteer?
- CASA volunteers are required to submit written court reports and attend all court hearings; CASA EDMs only attend court as necessary and are not required to submit a written report.
- CASA volunteers are required to meet with their child in their home at least once per month; CASA EDMs are only required to see the child in their school setting when necessary.
- CASA volunteers address a child’s permanency, safety, well-being, health and education; CASA EDMs address a child’s educational needs only.
- CASA volunteers have the right to review all of the child’s records, including physical health, mental health and education; CASA EDMs only have the right to review education records.
- A CASA volunteer makes recommendations to the court; CASA EDMs are the actual decision- maker for education issues.
May I train to be both a CASA and EDM volunteers?
Yes, you may train to be both a CASA and EDM volunteer.