By Barry Warner
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are volunteers who are assigned by a Judge to help the Court determine the best interests of children involved in child welfare proceedings. According to the Mental Health Association of Rockland who operates the program, these volunteers typically work with one or two families at a time. They devote the time and energy necessary to assist the Family Court and the Child Welfare System in making the best possible permanency plans for the children.
A CASA volunteer must be at least 21 years of age and successfully complete training and extensive screening prior to case assignment. Training is approximately 30 hours and consists of class work and court observation. Upon completion of training, each volunteer is sworn in by the Court and takes an oath to focus on the best interest of each child to whom they are assigned and to maintain strict confidentiality.
After being assigned by a Family Court Judge, the CASA volunteer:
- Reviews the Family Court file to gather family history, including court orders.
- Interviews those involved in the case including the child’s parents, foster parents, caseworker, attorney, teachers and medical professionals to gather information that will assist the Court making timely decisions in the child’s best interests.
- Communicates with everyone involved in the case to collaborate on what is best for the child.
- Reports to the Court. After gathering information, the volunteer prepares a report that is reviewed by the program staff and submitted to the Court. In order to protect everyone’s privacy, these reports are available only to the Court and parties involved in the case.
- Facilitates discussion and keeps the lines of communication open among the many people concerned when a child is involved in Family Court or the Child Welfare System.
- Monitors progress. The CASA volunteer maintains contact with everyone involved, attends Court appearances, follows up on Court orders and visits the child monthly.
CASA Program Coordinator Stephanie Fox, J.D. stated, “I have had the pleasure of working with Sally Muir in the Court Appointed Special Advocates Program for the past year and a half. Sally is a retired corporate attorney who exhibits wonderful qualities as a volunteer; she is passionate, modest, kind and thorough. I did not hesitate to assign Sally to her present case, a situation involving three children who were badly neglected and abused by their parents. Sally treats the children with respect and love and transmits her findings to Family Court Judges via well-researched and written reports about the children’s best interests. Sally is a pleasure to supervise and to know on a personal level. The children Sally advocates for are fortunate to have such a devoted and selfless volunteer.”
Sally Muir told The Rockland County Times, “It is a privilege to serve as a CASA volunteer. I want to make the world a better place by having positive influences on the lives of the children I am assigned to. I have been trained as a fact-finder regarding the individual needs of the abused and neglected children in foster care, in order to give them the best possible chance for a hopeful future. I get to know each child by talking with everyone in that child’s life including parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys and social workers. The information I gather is used to inform Judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the child’s best permanent home environment.”
The CASA Program is dedicated to the concept that all children are entitled to grow up in safe and loving homes. For direct inquiries about the CASA Program call Stephanie Fox at (845) 803-3744 or access www.mharockland.org