Written by Brianna Miller, Asst. Program Mgr., Riverside County
When describing what a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is to friends and family, I am often met with, “Isn’t that what a social worker does?” At first glance, there are several similarities between the role of a CASA and that of a social worker: both see the child monthly, submit a court report to the judge prior to each hearing, and are committed to monitoring the child’s wellbeing. However, there are unique differences between the two professionals, some of which put the “special” in Court Appointed Special Advocate.
Three Unique Differences
One of the most obvious but overlooked differences between the two is that a CASA is an everyday citizen who has chosen to volunteer, while a social worker is a paid county or state employee. That may not seem like much, but to a child it can make all the difference. Often, the CASA is the only person not paid to be in a child’s life. Over the years, I have heard CASAs recount stories of when a case child responded in disbelief upon learning their CASA wasn’t being paid. The dynamic of the relationship changes when a child knows their CASA has actually chosen to be involved in his or her life.
Another distinguishing factor of the CASA role is the one-on-one advocacy they provide. Generally, a social worker can carry a caseload of up to 35 families in Riverside County and up to 25 families in San Diego County, which can make a comprehensive investigation of each case a challenge. A CASA is assigned to only one child or sibling set, allowing for additional time to monitor a child’s progress and ensure that the child’s needs are being met. A CASA spends time with the child, in and out of their home environment, gets to know the child, including his or her needs and wants, and provides important information to the judge who is making decisions about the child’s future. The additional time spent with the children also allows CASAs to partner with social workers and draw attention to any unmet needs as they arise. CASAs provide the individualized attention that all children deserve.
While a CASA’s volunteer role and individualized advocacy are critical, perhaps the most impactful difference between a social worker and a CASA involves consistency. CASAs are a constant, stable adult in a foster child’s otherwise ever-changing life. Children’s social workers can change frequently, depending on the child’s permanent plan, age, placement type, and many other factors. CASAs are expected to remain on the case despite any change in the child’s circumstances. This consistency provides the child with a needed sense of security during an uncertain time and helps them to become more resilient when they enter adulthood.
A CASA volunteer and social worker each have a distinct role and set of responsibilities. As a special member of the child’s team, a CASA helps to ensure the child’s needs are met and makes them feel a little less alone during a complicated and scary time.
There has never been a better time for you to consider becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer. With online Information Sessions in both San Diego and Riverside County, you can take the first steps in your CASA journey all from the safety of your home. Sign up to attend an online volunteer Information Session today!