CASA Volunteers Help Nebraska Children
In 2011, 561 CASA volunteers advocated for 1, 267 of Nebraska’s abused and neglected children according to the CASA Nebraska website. In 2012, 243 children in Lancaster County had a CASA volunteer. Cases involving abused and neglected children close four months earlier on average when a CASA volunteer is appointed.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, which is a volunteer appointed by a judge to speak in court for the safety and well-being of an abused or neglected child. Cases are referral-based with referrals coming from judges, case workers, teachers, the Foster Care Review Board, or attorneys. Volunteers go through 30 hours of training, which includes state laws, Department of Health and Human Services policy, court procedures, available resources and training, as well as why families get in the system due to factors such as poverty, abuse, and violence.
Once a CASA volunteer is assigned a case, he or she does an investigation with those involved in the child’s life, such as teachers, therapists, doctors, and families. Then the CASA volunteer writes a report to be presented to a judge, suggesting recommendations in the child’s best interest. The volunteers aren’t bound by policy, so they can often provide a new perspective to ensure that professionals and judges have the most information possible when making decisions regarding the child’s case.
Dawn Rockey, Executive Director of CASA for Lancaster County, said this is not a typical volunteer position. The cases are often complicated and can go for 2 ½ to 10 years. Volunteers must be able to commit to a minimum of one year, yet volunteer retention is 70-75%, according to Ms. Rockey.
CASA volunteers come from all occupations and areas of interest. Ms. Rockey had a background in the legislature working with state senators, then becoming the State Treasurer, and a career in corporate banking before working for CASA for Lancaster County. To become a CASA volunteer, one needs to care about kids and pass a background check. Once training is completed, a volunteer can expect to spend 12-15 hours of time the first month, then anywhere from 3-6 hours the following months.
For information on how to become a volunteer, go to www.nebraskacasa.org. CASA programs currently cover 36 counties in Nebraska. As of June 30, 2012 there were 1, 425 children on the waiting list for CASA services, with 18 on the waiting list in Lancaster County.