• What does CASA do?

    CASA of Travis County believes every child who's been abused or neglected deserves to have a dedicated advocate speaking up for their best interest in court, at school and in our community. To accomplish this, CASA educates and empowers diverse community volunteers who ensure each child's needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system.

  • What is a CASA volunteer?

    A CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer is a trained community member who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interest of a child or family of children in the court system. Volunteers spend an average of 15-20 hours a month advocating for these children for the lifetime of a case. They get to know the child while also gathering information from the child's family, teachers, doctors, therapists, caregivers and anyone else involved in the child's life.

    CASA volunteers serve as the guardian ad litem, an official representative in a Child Protective Services (CPS) case entitled to access information about the child's situation and required to make reports to the court in the child's best interest. CASA volunteers speak for what is in the child's best interest while the attorney ad litem speaks on behalf of the child's wants or preferences - often these two opinions differ with serious potential consequences.

  • Who are the children CASA serves?

    In 2017, approximately 2,450 Austin area children were involved with CPS due to alleged abuse or neglect. These children have often been removed from everything familiar - home, family, friends and school - and find themselves in a world filled with social workers, lawyers, judges and courtrooms where life-altering decisions are made on their behalf.

    CASA serves children from birth to 18 (and sometimes after 18 if they decide to stay in care, which they have the option to do until they’re 21). The majority of the children are placed outside of their home with relatives, in foster homes, shelters or residential facilities. Children do not live with their CASA volunteers.

  • How many children does CASA serve?

    Last year, 721 dedicated volunteers made it possible for CASA to advocate for 1,767 children, approximately 72% of the total number of children in CPS care in Austin.

  • What difference does CASA make for children recovering from abuse or neglect?
    • When it’s safe to do so, CASA believes it is in children’s best interest to stay connected to their families. Of the 741 children’s cases closed with the help of CASA last year, 51% were reunified with their parents and 25% were adopted by or live permanently with relatives.
    • A study by Texas Appleseed, "Improving the Lives of Children in Long-Term Foster Care," reports that "If a child has a CASA, the CASA usually is the only person who truly knows the child and knows how the child is really doing."
    • National CASA reports that children with CASA volunteers are more likely to receive therapy, health care and education, more likely to do better in school, less likely to be bounced from one place to another, less likely to get stuck in long-term foster care and significantly more likely to reach safe, permanent homes.
    • Most importantly, children themselves report that they know and can rely on their CASA volunteers.
  • How does CASA get assigned to children?

    When the state steps in to protect a child's safety, a judge appoints a trained CASA volunteer to make independent and informed recommendations and help the judge decide what's best for the child. Currently, CASA of Travis County is automatically appointed to all children ages 5 and older, with exceptions made for younger children based on sibling groups and high needs cases. CASA has prioritized based on age because a lawyer can technically represent the best interest of children too young to talk, serving in the dual role of guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem without conflict. Yet CASA volunteers focused on one child or sibling group can provide crucial advocacy in these early, developmental stages of a young child’s life. CASA's vision is to provide a CASA volunteer for every child in need, so in 2018, CASA is working to recruit 300 new volunteers and raise the necessary funds to begin serving all children ages 2 and older. 

  • How does someone become a CASA volunteer?

    CASA volunteers come from every walk of life. They range in age from 21 to 84, represent various cultural backgrounds and are students, retirees, teachers, firefighters, realtors and many other diverse members of our community. They all share a commitment to improving children's lives, a willingness to learn and an open mind towards life experiences different from their own.

    Volunteers complete an interview, background checks and a 39-hour intensive training program including courtroom observation. After being sworn-in by a judge, volunteers are appointed to a child or family of children and spend an average of 15-20 hours a month advocating for these children for the lifetime of a case (17 months on average). Prospective volunteers must be at least 21 years of age and must pass extensive reference, Child Protective Services, sex offender registry and criminal background checks.

  • How long has CASA existed?

    CASA of Travis County was created in 1985 by concerned community members and judges and was the fourth CASA program in Texas - following the creation of the national CASA model by a Seattle family court judge in 1977.

  • How is CASA funded?

    2018 Budget - $5.16 Million

    • 36% - Government Grants
    • 26% - Foundation Grants
    • 20% - Fundraising Events
    • 18% - Individual/Corporate Contributions/Workplace Giving
  • What is the cost to provide a CASA volunteer to one child?

    CASA of Travis County's cost per child per year is $2,000, which covers all aspects of providing a trained volunteer and a professional staff member to support them. The guardian ad litem services CASA provides are professional services defined by the Texas Family Code and without CASA's over 700 trained community volunteers to provide these services, attorneys or professional social workers would have to be paid on a per client, per hour basis. In Austin, guardian ad litem services through other entities in other kinds of cases can range from a flat fee of $2,700 for one case to as much as $75/hour for cases that could take a full year. In addition to the cost savings of providing guardian ad litem services through a non-profit organization with trained volunteers, National CASA studies have found that CASA volunteers spend significantly more time with a child than a paid guardian ad litem.

  • What is the difference between CASA of Travis County and...
    • Child Protective Services (CPS), a division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, investigates reports of abuse and neglect of children, places children in foster care and places children in adoptive homes. State budget cuts mean CPS workers have high case loads and staff turnover is high. CASA volunteers serve in the role of advocate for a child to ensure that the state is being responsive to the child's individual needs. CASA provides helpful insight and recommendations that go into the service planning and placement decisions. CASA also has the freedom to advocate in the court for what is best for a child within reasonable means without the constraints of policies and procedures of a state agency. CASA volunteers are often the only adult who remains constant in a child's life during the 12-18 months their case is open.

    • Big Brothers Big Sisters matches adult volunteer mentors with children, ages 6-16, who have been voluntarily enrolled in the program by their parents or other adults in their lives. CASA volunteers are court-appointed to children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect, and because of their legal role they have access to the child's otherwise confidential information, including teachers, therapists and doctors. The CASA volunteer will serve as a consistent and trustworthy adult in the child's life, but will go beyond mentoring by making official recommendations to the court in the child's best interest.

    • LifeWorks provides a network of services including shelter, counseling and life skills training to youth and families. Many of the older youth CASA serves utilize this valuable community resource for help in the transition to independence and adulthood, and CASA often works closely with LifeWorks to help the youth we serve become successful adults.

    • The Center for Child Protection provides child-friendly forensic interviews, exams and counseling for children who've experienced abuse or witnessed violence. Many of the children CASA serves have received services from the Center for Child Protection. The Center focuses on the criminal aspects of child abuse cases while CASA advocates for children in the civil cases brought by CPS to protect the children.

    • Austin Children's Shelter, a program of SAFE, provides a safe home for children in crisis. Most children at Austin Children's Shelter have been removed from their homes by CPS because of severe abuse or neglect. CASA serves many youth who have been placed at Austin Children's Shelter for some period of time. 

  • What are some special initiatives CASA is working on?

    CASA's special initiatives currently include the Teen Advocacy and Permanency Project, Trauma-Informed Advocacy, Family Finding and Early Family Engagement, Diversity/Inclusiveness, Educational Advocacy and more. Learn about our innovative work and special projects on our Special Initiatives page.