Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are trained volunteers whose role is to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem County Juvenile Court system.
- Advocates are appointed to advocate for the long-term best interest of the child
- Advocates are not mandated by law to “reunite the family” as is true with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)
- Advocates work with the professionals who aim in that direction, but are expected to work in the best interest of the child, even in the face of a disagreement with DCFS
- Advocates are appointed by the judge to conduct independent investigation and to monitor Court orders pertaining to the child
- Advocates may agree or disagree with other professionals
- Advocates must have facts to support their recommendation
Best interest of the child may require a recommendation of Termination of Parental Rights
- The decision for termination should be reached only if all other options have been tried and were unsuccessful (or not appropriate for the child), or the parents failed to cooperate with services to correct the conditions of abuse/neglect. The Judge makes the final decision on termination.
- Advocates must deal with their personal feelings regarding the permanent severing of the parent-child relationship and the sadness that may be felt toward the parents
- Advocates must focus on the “best interest” of the child
- Advocates must realize that some children are much better off placed into new families, with new lives
- Advocates strive to make certain that the judge has all of the facts so that the best possible decision can be made
Advocates keep in regular contact with the child and interested parties on the case
- Regular contact is interpreted to be at least monthly contact, preferably face-to-face, with the child. Attorneys, caseworkers, therapists, agency providers, teachers, and foster parents need to be contacted to keep updated on changes in the child’s situation. This contact should be often enough to build a relationship that will enable the advocate to keep abreast of the child’s situation. Because many cases involve unpredictable activity, regular contact in-person or by phone assumes a smooth flow of information.
- Advocates must be consistent in their contacts. Regular, timely contacts are much more credible and show a truer picture of the case than those contacts made just prior to the hearing.