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    Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
    FREE
    CASA is a national volunteer organization with offices in five Massacusetts counties. CASA of Hampden County seves abused and neglected children in the western Massachusetts cities of Springfield and Holyoke. CASA volunteers are matched with local children who need advocates to represent their best interests before local Juvenile Court Judges.
     
    At the bottom of this page is a link to add this "item" to your cart. After you complete the free checkout, someone will reach out to you shortly to discuss your interests and availability. Thanks for looking into volunteering to help CASA and the children of Springfield and Holyoke!
    FAQs About Volunteering

    1. What Exactly Does a CASA Volunteer Do? 

    The CASA volunteer is an advocate for a child that has a case in Hampden County Juvenile Court. Judges assign a CASA in cases where the child may not have anyone in their lives that can effectively advocate for them in the child welfare system. CASAs are also requested by judges when the cases have so many people involved that they need an independent, objective opinion about what is in the child’s best interests.
    CASA volunteers work on all kinds of cases for the Court: children who need care and protection from abuse and/or neglect, children who have committed relatively minor delinquent acts, and children who need services from the Court because of issues at home or in school.
    The work thata volunteer does for CASA varies greatly depending on the needs of each individual child. In general, however, volunteers conduct thorough research on the background of the child, review Court and Department of Children and Families records, and interview people who are involved in the case, especially the child. The CASA volunteer then writes a report to the juvenile court judge, recommending what they believe is best for the child. Essentially, the volunteer becomes the eyes and ears of the judge.
    2.  What Role Do CASA Volunteers Play in the Child Welfare System? 
    As the eyes and ears of the judge the CASA volunteer ensures that the child is receiving the most appropriate services, that are available for them and that permanency for children is a primary focus.  The information the volunteer gathers is used to make recommendations to a judge in areas such as services, placement, family visitation and education.
    Once the case goes to Court, the CASA volunteer follows up to ensure that the services that are supposed to be provided for the child are in fact being provided. This could include special education, therapy, or treatment for physical and mental health needs. The CASA volunteer is essentially a go-between with the Court and the individual service providers in Hampden County (such as the Department of Social Services, the school system, and private treatment and foster care programs).
    The children have multiple court dates in juvenile court, giving the judge many opportunities to oversee their treatment. The CASA volunteer prepares reports for each of these dates (usually several months apart), giving the Court a progress report as to how well the child is doing and if any modifications need to be made to their treatment plan.
    The CASA volunteer plays an essential role in bridging the gap in communication between the Court and the individual social service programs in Hampden County.
    3.  Who are the children that I would be working with?
    About half the children referred to the CASA program are ages 15-17. We also have a significant number of children under the age of 10. The children come to us from three sources:  1) Care and Protection (abuse and neglect) Petitions; 2) being a Child Requiring Assistance (Truancy, Runaway, or Bahvioral Issues); or 3) minor delinquency charges. Over 60% of our children have suffered abuse or neglect (usually neglect).
    Nearly all the children come from backgrounds of poverty and deprivation. Some of the cases involve severe abuse and neglect; in others the family only needs some assistance in order to get their lives back together. We usually can provide you with the history of the child before you decide to take on the case.
    4.  What help do CASA volunteers offer the children?
    The CASA volunteer is in a powerful position to help their child because they usually know the child better than anyone else in the system and have more time to devote to a case. With a CASA to advocate for them, these children are less likely to fall through the cracks of the system. The CASA volunteer ensures that someone is accountable for the child’s situation and that steady progress is being made towards a positive outcome.
    5.  Is this like a Big Brother/Sister or mentor relationship?
    No. While CASA volunteers do get to know the children and form a relationship with them, it is not personal. We do not provide services to the child or family, but rather monitor those services for the Court. Our primary obligation is to advocate for the child’s best interests in Court.
    6.  How much time is involved with being a CASA volunteer?
    The number of hours per week varies depending on the child’s needs and a volunteer's schedule. You will spend more time on the case in the beginning, as you learn about the child and meet all the other professionals who are involved in their care. Much of this work can be done over the phone. We also ask that you see the child at least once a month, though more often is better. In the first few weeks of the case you could be putting in 1-5 hours a week, depending on the situation.
    After a volunteer has completed their initial report to the judge, the time commitment usually lessens because the situation is now being monitored. Some weeks, a volunteer may not put in any time. Each case is different and the needs of the child are likely to change significantly over the life of the case.
    Volunteering with CASA is like many other activities; it can benefit from as many hours as you’d like to devote to it, but we don’t encourage that. The most effective volunteers are realistic with their time, don’t over-extend themselves, but are able to put in additional work when the case deserves it.
    7.  How much support will I get?
    Lots. Although we have a small office, our job is to support our volunteers. We give you the training you need to get started and offer additional trainings on special topics throughout the year. We can usually do the initial research on the child’s case and get you the contact information you need to begin your work. We routinely step in and attend court appearances and meetings when your schedule does not allow. We also take over cases when you go on vacation or need a break. The CASA office has an annual appreciation event for all our volunteers, giving you opportunities to network and get support from other volunteers.
    8.  What are the requirements to be a CASA volunteer?
    The biggest ones are a desire to work with children in need and the willingness to advocate for the most positive outcome of their case.
    The formal requirements are that you must be at least 21 years old, be able to pass a criminal records check, and complete our initial training program. You do not need to have a background in child welfare.  One of the strengths of the CASA program is providing a fresh perspective to the case.
    9.  What is the process for becoming a CASA volunteer?
    Fill out and return the two page CASA application. We will then set up an interview so that we can learn about each other and make sure it is a good match. You will then be informed of our next training class. At the end of the training, you will be sworn-in by the First Justice of the Hampden Juvenile Court, at which time you will then be ready to take your first case.
    10.  What is the training going to be like?
    The training classes will meet for 30 in class hours and additionally there will be material to cover independently. The class is taught using group teaching methods, so you will be learning alongside other new volunteers like yourself. 
    We are very flexible about scheduling the classes:  sometimes they are during the day, other times in the evening.  It all depends on everyone’s schedule and finding a time that works for everyone.  New classes start about every two months. 
    Class sizes are small, typically 5-6 people.
    11.  Do you have other questions?
    Call the CASA office at 413-781-CASA (2272), email us at casa@chd.org, or simply add this item to your cart, complete the free checkout, and someone will reach out to you shortly. Thank you for your interest!


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