Founded in 1980, Voices for Children recruits, trains, and supervises Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, who advocate for the rights and well-being of the more than 5,100 children who pass through foster care in San Diego County annually because they have been abused, neglected, or maltreated by their families or caregivers. As the only agency in San Diego County designated by the Juvenile Dependency Court to provide CASA volunteers, Voices for Children has a Serve Every Child vision: to provide a CASA to every foster child who needs one.
CASA volunteers are trained to act as first-hand experts on the individual needs of abused and neglected children in San Diego County foster care, giving them the best possible chance at a bright future. The children CASA volunteers help are involved in the dependency system because they have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Each CASA volunteer is assigned to a Voices for Children Advocacy Supervisor, with whom they can confer and consult any time in the course of advocacy. Advocacy Supervisors provide guidance and support to their CASAs as they advocate on behalf of their case children and prepare written reports for the Court.
A CASA volunteer provides a judge with carefully researched background details about the child to help the Court make sound decisions about that child’s future. Each case is as unique as the foster child involved. The CASA volunteer must gather extensive information about his or her case child (or case children) and help the Court determine if it’s in the child’s best interest to return to his or her parents or guardians, to be eligible for permanent adoption, or to remain in foster care. The CASA volunteer makes a recommendation to the judge on placement and services and follows through on the case until it is resolved.
A CASA volunteer offers a child trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings, helping explain to the child the events happening in his or her case, the reasons they are in Court, and the roles of the judge, lawyers, and social workers. While remaining an objective observer, a CASA volunteer also encourages the child to express his or her own opinions and hopes about the case.
The mission of a CASA is to help clear a path for a child out of the complex, overburdened child welfare system and into a safe, permanent home. A CASA volunteer serves as a fact finder for the judge by thoroughly researching the background of the assigned case and gathering additional and ongoing information about the case as it develops. He or she also speaks on behalf of the child in the courtroom—advocating for the child’s best interests—and acts as an overseer for the child for the duration of the case.
A CASA volunteer is matched to a case based on priority of need and when the child or sibling group enters the system. Consideration is also given to any special experiences or skills the volunteer may have. Because the age, gender, and circumstances of cases are constantly in flux, CASAs must be flexible and open-minded with regard to case assignment.
A CASA volunteer typically handles one case at a time, which could be one child or, more frequently, a group of siblings. As a case nears completion or activity becomes low, a CASA volunteer may opt to be assigned to a second case after consultation with his or her Advocacy Supervisor.
To prepare a recommendation for the Court, a CASA volunteer investigates a case by talking with the child, parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers, and others who are knowledgeable about the child’s history and current situation. The CASA also reviews all records pertaining to the child: school, medical, caseworker reports, and other documents.
Generally, a social worker is employed by state or local governments and carries an average case load of 16 to 25 cases, which makes a comprehensive investigation of each case a challenge. A CASA volunteer, however, is assigned specifically to a child or sibling group and can devote more time to his or her assigned case. A CASA does not replace a social worker on a case; he or she is an independent appointee of the court. A CASA thoroughly examines a child’s case, knows about various community resources, and makes recommendations to the Court independent of state agency restrictions.
Unlike an attorney, a CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation in the courtroom. Rather, a CASA speaks up for the child’s best interests and provides crucial background information that can assist attorneys in presenting their cases.
Voices for Children’s CASAs come from all walks of life and possess a variety of professional, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. What unites them is the desire to help and advocate for an abused or neglected child. CASAs must be at least 21 years old. No experience is necessary!
In FY2014-15, more than 1,400 CASA volunteers—recruited and trained by Voices for Children—advocated on behalf of 2,282 children in the foster care system and an additional 227 children were served by a Voices for Children Case Liaison. This year, FY2015-16, we need 1,550 CASAs to advocate for more than 2,400 children and assess the case files for the estimated 5,000 children who will pass through foster care in San Diego County this year.
A CASA volunteer must be at least 21 years old and must be able to commit to a case for at least 18 months. He or she must also clear a criminal background check and be willing to drive anywhere in San Diego County. CASAs must have a valid driver’s license, fewer than three points on their driving record, reliable access to a vehicle, and at least two years of driving experience. They must also have professional communication skills, as well as the ability to be objective and speak with authority. Click here to read our eligibility FAQs.
A CASA volunteer continues until his or her assigned case is permanently resolved. To ensure stability, Voices for Children asks its volunteers for a minimum commitment of 18 months. Unlike other Court principals who often rotate cases, such as social workers or attorneys, the CASA volunteer is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for the child.
Yes! VFC is certified by the National CASA Association and is one of nearly 1,000 local and state CASA programs, each of which must adhere to formal standards set by the National CASA Association. VFC is required to pass a quality assurance review, which is administered every four years. This self-assessment is undertaken by local programs across the U.S. in order to evaluate and improve their operations. Voices for Children is also evaluated by the Administration of the Courts—a state agency that reports to the Judicial Council to ensure that we are following the appropriate state regulations—as well as the California CASA Association.
The Voices for Children Board of Directors sets policy, ensures that the mission is being served, and has fiduciary responsibility for the organization. The President/CEO of Voices for Children is Sharon M. Lawrence. Ms. Lawrence, an attorney, has led VFC since 1997 and is a widely recognized leader in the national community of CASA organizations. She manages a staff of more than 70 professional employees, all working on behalf of San Diego County and Riverside County foster children.
Voices for Children is a private, nonprofit organization designated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization by the IRS. In FY2014-15, 97% of its revenue comes from the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations, with only a small portion from government funders (3%). All contributions to VFC are tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law. The operating budget in FY2014-15 is $5,977,000. A total of 76% of expenditures directly support the mission and program costs of VFC, while 24% of expenditures cover costs of administration, management, and fundraising.
The average cost of providing a CASA volunteer to one child for one year is $2,500. This covers recruitment, training, staff support, and other direct and indirect expenses related to the core mission of Voices for Children.
Findings show that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to receive necessary services sooner, for a longer duration, and more consistently than those children without a CASA volunteer. Judges have observed that children with CASAs also have better chances of finding permanent homes and are less likely to re-enter foster care.
Each county has only one program in which volunteers are appointed by the Court to advocate for a child’s best interests. In San Diego County and Riverside County, Voices for Children is the only agency that provides this service.