Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
About Voices for Children
Founded in 1980, Voices for Children (VFC) transforms the lives of abused, neglected, and abandoned children in foster care in San Diego and Riverside Counties by providing them with trained, volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). CASA volunteers advocate for an individual child or sibling group in court, school, and in the community to ensure their needs are met. VFC believes that every child deserves a safe and permanent home and strives to provide a CASA volunteer to every child in the foster care system who needs one. Last year, VFC staff and nearly 1,400 CASAs served more than 4,200 children across San Diego and Riverside Counties.
Yes. Voices for Children is certified by the National CASA/GAL 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.
Voices for Children operates the CASA program in San Diego and Riverside Counties in Southern California. VFC was founded in San Diego County in 1980. In early 2015, Voices for Children was approached by the local court to rebuild the CASA program in Riverside County, and our program in the region was launched in June 2015.
In FY2019-2020, we provided a CASA to more than 2,000 children in San Diego and Riverside Counties. In San Diego County, staff members called Case Liaisons advocated on behalf of an additional 654 children and VFC staff continuously monitored the cases of 941 children through our Case Assessment Program (CAP).
The Judicial Council designates one organization per county to recruit, train, and support CASA volunteers. Voices for Children has been the sole CASA program in San Diego County since 1980 and in Riverside County since 2015.
Volunteering & The CASA Program
Within the foster care system in California, and many other states across the U.S., there is a role called a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA. CASAs are volunteers who are matched with a child or sibling group and advocate on their behalf.
While many CASAs act as mentors and friends for the vulnerable children they serve, their primary role is to advocate for the child in court, in schools, in health care settings, and in the community. Aside from their time spent with the child, CASAs communicate with all of the other adults in a child’s life – teachers, doctors, lawyers, biological families, social workers, and caregivers. With the knowledge they glean, they request important services for a child, such as counseling, tutoring, physical therapy, or medical services. At critical junctures in the case, they submit written reports to the court, which can be entered as evidence in the case and upon which dependency judges rely to make important decisions about the child’s future.
To become a CASA, the first step is to attend a Volunteer Information Session. Click here to sign up and learn more about our application process.
While our training program is rigorous, volunteers will learn the skills needed to successfully advocate for a child in foster care and will be guided through the process by our dedicated training team.
Volunteers must commit to a three or four-week training schedule (weekend and evening options available). Training includes an orientation, eight group classes, 10 self-paced prerequisite classes, two interviews during business hours (30-60 minutes each), and various homework assignments. The total time investment is an estimated 35-40 hours. Homework assignments include viewing videos of simulated dependency hearings, completing a practice court report, obtaining driving record(s), reading a policies and procedures manual, completing brief surveys, and submitting to background checks. In addition, volunteers are asked to pay a $50 training fee. Fees for fingerprinting and to obtain driving records vary. Voices for Children is happy to waive the training fee for reasons of hardship.
The children we serve have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Many feel very much alone—until they meet their CASA. While the foster care system comprises many dedicated and caring professionals, it is also overburdened. A lawyer may represent 100 or more children, a social worker may juggle a caseload of more than 25 families, and judges oversee 500 or more cases. A CASA volunteer devotes their attention to one child or a sibling group, closely monitoring each child’s situation. Through this individualized advocacy, a CASA is able to ensure a child’s needs are being met, including physical and mental health resources, educational support, and more. Over time, a CASA often becomes the most consistent adult presence in that child’s life—the one person a child can truly count on who is not paid to oversee their welfare.
We have hundreds of dedicated CASAs—men and women encompassing all age groups and backgrounds. They work full-time, part-time, are retired, and are students. No legal experience or prior knowledge of foster care are required; we provide all the training needed to be a successful advocate.
- Must be at least 21 years old
- Must be able to visit or connect with assigned youth at least once per month
- Minimum commitment of 18 months; average service is 10-15 hours per month
- Must have a good driving record and be able to clear criminal background check
Generally, a social worker is employed by state or local governments and can carry a caseload of more than 25 families, 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, helps make connections to various community resources, and reports 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 and judges in making decisions about the child’s future.
Voices for Children matches a CASA 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 judge officially appoints the CASA to the case, authorizing them to be involved in the child’s life.
Each CASA volunteer is assigned to a Voices for Children staff member called an Advocacy Supervisor, who has extensive knowledge of child welfare, child development, and local resources available to children and youth. Advocacy Supervisors provide guidance and support to their CASAs as they advocate on behalf of their assigned youth and assist CASAs with the preparation of written reports for the Court.
To ensure stability for children, 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. In many cases, CASAs continue serving until the child’s case closes.
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 their Advocacy Supervisor.
To prepare information for the court, a CASA volunteer learns about 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.
CASA volunteers are able to serve children in the Juvenile Court system, which is comprised of the dependency system, also known as foster care, and the delinquency system, also known as the juvenile justice system. When the CASA model first began, CASAs served only children in the dependency system. Later, in 2015, the California legislature recognized the needs of youth in the juvenile justice system and enacted new laws permitting CASAs to offer advocacy and support to this population. In 2017, thanks to new grant funding, Voices for Children launched its Juvenile Justice program in San Diego County, serving youth who have committed minor, nonviolent offenses and would greatly benefit from a CASA.
Governance & Funding
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 Kelly Capen Douglas. She manages a staff of more than 75 professional employees, all working on behalf of all children in San Diego County and Riverside County foster care.
Voices for Children is a private, nonprofit organization designated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization by the IRS. Our funding comes primary from individuals, foundations, and corporations with a small portion from government funders. All contributions to VFC are tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law. For more information, view our recent Impact Reports, federal and California tax letters, and our federal tax return, IRS Form 990.