• 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 (17 months on average). 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.

    Learn more about the 15-20 hours per month commitment in our blog post, A Month in the Life of a CASA Volunteer.

    Learn more about working with families in our blog post, Seeing the Whole Picture by Working with a Child’s Family.

  • 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.

    2017 Child Demographics

    Race and ethnicity of children served:

    • Hispanic/Latino = 51%
    • Black/African-American = 25%
    • White = 16%
    • Bi-Racial/Multi-Racial = 6%
    • Asian/Asian-American = 1%
    • Other/Not Specified = 1%

    Ages and gender of children served:

    • 0-4 = 27%
    • 5-13 = 52%
    • 14-17 = 17%
    • 18 and over = 4%
    • 51% male; 49% female

    Learn about disproportionality, or the overrepresentation of children of color within the system, in our blog posts, What You Should Know About Disproportionality and Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System: An interview with Tanya Rollins.

  • How old are the children CASA serves?

    CASA serves children from birth to 18, and even up to 21 for teens who decide to stay in extended foster care.

    At this point in time CASA is automatically appointed to all children ages 5 and up, and occasionally appointed to younger children who are part of sibling groups or have higher need cases. This age limit is based on our capacity to recruit, screen, train and supervise CASA volunteers to take cases.

    Our goal is to serve all children in need. In 2018, through dedicated volunteer recruitment and fundraising efforts, we aim to begin accepting automatic appointments for children 4 and older by March, children 3 and older by June, and children 2 and older by September.

  • Where do the children live?

    The majority of the children are placed outside of their home with relatives, or in foster homes, shelters or residential facilities, though some children do still live with their parents. Children are often placed outside of Travis County. They can live across Texas or out of the state, and placements can change throughout the case. Minimum in-person visit requirements vary depending on where children are placed:

    • Once a month for children placed within 60 miles of the Texas State Capitol
    • Once every 3 months for children placed between 60 and 180 miles from the Texas State Capitol
    • Once every 6 months for children placed 181 miles or more from the Texas State Capitol

    Children do not live with their CASA volunteers, nor do they visit their volunteers’ homes.

    Learn more about traveling as a CASA volunteer in our blog, A Different Kind of Summer Travel.

  • What is the CASA volunteer's role?

    A CASA volunteer provides a judge with a carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child's future. Each child's case is unique. The CASA volunteer recommends if it is in a child's best interest to be reunified with their parents, be placed in foster or relative care, or move towards permanent out-of-home placement or adoption. The CASA volunteer provides guardian ad litem representation for the child in the court system, as well as advocacy in educational, social welfare and medical areas.

    Learn more about reunification with parents in our blog series, Reunifying Families.

    Learn about educational advocacy in our blog post, Educational Advocacy Tips to Start the School Year Right for Kids.

  • How does a CASA volunteer investigate a case?

    To prepare a recommendation, the CASA volunteer spends time with the child and talks to parents, teachers, doctors, therapists, caregivers and other important adults in the child’s life who are knowledgeable about the child's history and progress. The CASA volunteer has a court order that allows them to review all records pertaining to the child – school, medical, caseworker reports and other documents.

    This is not an investigation of the abuse or neglect that started the case. Investigators with CPS have already concluded that investigation. 

  • What is CASA’s training program like?

    The CASA Volunteer Training program consists of 8 in-person 3.5-hour classes, an hour of pre-work for each class and 3 hours of courtroom observation (approximately 39 hours total) completed over a 5-week cycle. You must finish all training and observation within the 5 weeks and all background checks must be completed and cleared in order to be assigned to a case.

    We also ask that volunteers complete 12 hours of Continuing Education each year, including trainings hosted by CASA and within the community; relevant books, articles, podcasts or films; webinars and more.

  • Is there a typical CASA volunteer?

    CASA volunteers come from every walk of life. They range in age from 21 to 80, represent various educational and ethnic backgrounds, and are students, retirees, teachers, firefighters, realtors and many other diverse members of our community. There are over 700 active CASA volunteers annually in Travis County. Aside from their CASA volunteer responsibility, half of our volunteers have full-time jobs. 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.

    Get to know some of our volunteers on our website, and check out our Become a CASA Volunteer video to meet other people who are advocating for kids in need.

  • What are the requirements for becoming a CASA volunteer?

    Volunteers must be at least 21 years of age and be able to pass extensive reference, Child Protective Services, sex offender registry and criminal background checks before becoming a CASA volunteer. Applicants are required to complete an application, attend a pre-training interview, and participate in CASA training. Volunteers should have effective oral and written communication skills, and comfort with computer technology including email and word processing. You may not be a current foster parent or be in the process of adopting a child from Child Protective Services. If an attorney, you may not concurrently be appointed to any cases involving Child Protective Services in Travis County.  

  • How does CASA of Travis County support volunteers?

    Each volunteer is supervised by a professional staff member who oversees and supports their work throughout the case. Their supervisor will introduce the volunteer to the child(ren), parents and all legal parties on the case, attend court proceedings and all official meetings with the volunteer, assist with the writing of court reports and preparation for the courtroom presentation, be available for discussion of case issues, help in navigating difficult legal issues and provide extra support as needed.

    Learn about speaking up in court and how a supervisor helps prepare volunteers for that presentation in our blog post, A Voice that Trembles is Better than No Voice at All.

  • How many cases on average does a CASA volunteer carry at a time?

    Typically each CASA volunteer carries one case at a time which allows them to focus on the needs of one child or sibling group.

  • How does a CASA volunteer differ from CPS caseworkers?

    CASA is a separate nonprofit organization that exists outside of the Child Protective Services state system. CASA volunteers are appointed by the court in the guardian ad litem role to focus specifically on the best interest of the child(ren) with an unbiased community perspective. A CASA volunteer thoroughly examines a child's case, has knowledge of community resources, and can offer outside-the-box recommendations independent of state policy limitations and restrictions. CASA volunteers advocate for one child or family of children at a time, while a CPS caseworker has a full caseload of children they are working with.

  • How does a CASA volunteer differ from attorneys?

    The CASA volunteer represents the best interest of the child and funnels information to the attorney and judge. An attorney is charged with representing their client's legal interests and with following the wishes of their client. CASA is appointed as the child's guardian ad litem and is responsible for making recommendations about what things would be best for the child. The CASA volunteer does not file legal paperwork with the court. However, the CASA volunteer does provide crucial background information that assists the court in making decisions.

  • How does a CASA volunteer differ from a foster parent?

    A foster parent opens their home temporarily to a child or group of children in need of placement. CASA volunteers will gather information on how a child is doing in their foster home, and will interact with foster parents to gather information from them on the child’s wellbeing. Children do not live with their CASA volunteers, nor do they visit their volunteers’ homes.

  • Still not sure if you want to become a CASA volunteer?

CASA of Travis County’s commitment to equal opportunity is an important part of our core values. In order to provide the best quality advocacy for children in our community, we believe that we must be responsive to the needs of everyone who may provide, receive or be affected by our services. To that end, all policies, practices and recommendations are administered without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, gender identity and gender expression, marital status, physical abilities or national origin.