A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an official representative in a Child Protective Services case. The GAL appointment entitles our volunteer advocates to access information about the child's situation from medical, educational, and professional providers, and requires our volunteers to report to the court in the child's best interest, placing CASA on equal footing with other child advocates on the case. Legally, a child in CPS care must have a GAL, and we’re filling that official role. Not all CASA programs are appointed as GAL.
Learn more about this official role in our blog post, Understanding Guardian Ad Litem.
In 2019, approximately 2,500 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).
2019 Child Demographics
Race and ethnicity of children served
- Hispanic/Latino = 49%
- Black/African-American = 28%
- White = 14%
- Bi-Racial/Multi-Racial = 7%
- Asian/Asian-American = <1%
- Other/Not Specified = 2%
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.
Ages and gender of children served
- 0-4 = 31%
- 5-13 = 50%
- 14-17 = 14%
- 18 and over = 5%
- 50% male; 50% female
Learn about the different age groups we serve in our blog post, Advocacy Across the Ages.
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.
CASA volunteers serving on long-term cases have minimum in-person visit requirements that 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 volunteer advocates, nor do they visit their volunteers’ homes.
Learn more about traveling as a volunteer advocate in our blog, A Different Kind of Summer Travel.
When it is safe and in a child's best interest, CASA's primary goal on a case is to help children reunify with their families. This means that it is important for all volunteer advocates to get to know and work with a child's biological parents, as well as their extended family. Early Family Engagement volunteers specifically work to involve a child’s extended family network from the earliest stages of the case to ensure a child’s continued feeling of connectedness and wellbeing, and to facilitate placement with relatives whenever possible. Family Finding volunteers research and connect with relatives on ongoing cases in an attempt to engage or re-engage them in the lives of children.
Learn more about working with families in our blog post, Seeing the Whole Picture by Working with a Child’s Family.
Learn more about reunification with parents in our blog series, Reunifying Families.
Learn more about Family Engagement in our blog post, Diving into CASA’s Family Finding Program.
Volunteer advocates come from every walk of life. They range in age from 21 to 81, represent various educational and ethnic backgrounds, and are students, retirees, teachers, firefighters, realtors and many other diverse members of our community. There are nearly 800 active volunteer advocates annually in Travis County. Aside from their 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.
Learn more about volunteering with CASA when you have a full-time job or when you have kids of your own in our blog posts, Can I volunteer with CASA while having a full-time job? and Volunteering with CASA When You Have Kids of Your Own.
To prepare a recommendation, the CASA volunteer gets to know and builds a trusting relationship with a child or family of children by seeing them in person at least once a month. They talk 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.
Learn more about the support systems and training components put in place to make sure our volunteers feel safe and prepared in all situations in our blog post, Building Safety and Security for Kids and Volunteers.
You will learn about topics like: Trauma, Resilience, Mental Health, Poverty, Substance Abuse, Domestic Violence, Cultural Competence, LGBTQ Youth & Identity, Educational Advocacy, Communications Skills and more.
Check out our Training Schedules.
Learn more about training in our blog post, Why We Ask for 39 Hours of Intensive Training.
Typically each volunteer advocate carries one case at a time which allows them to focus on the needs of one child or family of children.
CASA volunteers commit to spending 15–20 hours per month for the duration of one specific case (17 months on average). Learn more about this commitment in our blog post, A Month in the Life of a CASA Volunteer.
Early Family Engagement (EFE) volunteers commit to spending 10–12 hours per case over a 7–10 day period and completing a minimum of 6 cases per year. This is a short-term, fast-paced volunteer role.
Family Finding (FF) volunteers commit to approximately 5 hours per week on a case in this specialized support role. Cases range from 2 weeks–5 months depending upon the needs of the children and family. Learn more about this commitment in our blog post, Diving into CASA’s Family Finding Program.
Volunteers are paired with a staff professional supervisor (Child Advocacy Specialist, Early Family Engagement Specialist, or Family Finding Specialist) who supports and guides them every step of the way. This includes preparing for and attending case-related hearings and meetings and guiding the volunteer to pertinent resources specific to each case. When a supervisor is not available for a meeting or hearing, another CASA staff member will attend to support the volunteer.
Check out our Facebook Live conversation with volunteer advocate Shannon and her supervisor Hollie to learn more about how volunteers and supervisors work together.
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.
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 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.
Learn more about our requirements in our blog post, Avoiding Conflicts of Interest: Why CASA volunteers can’t be foster parents.
Volunteers are responsible for paying for their travel to visit children placed within 180 miles of the Capitol. We ask that CASA volunteers not spend more than $25 per visit on a child. This money usually goes towards meals and outings during the visit
Learn how we support volunteers to keep expenses low in our blog post, What are CASA Volunteers Financially Responsible for?
No, but you are required to see the child (or children) you serve at least once a month if they live within 60 miles of the Texas State Capitol, and within 30 days of a placement change.
*Currently, monthly in-person visits are not required of CASA volunteers but are permitted as long as our CASA of Travis County COVID-19 Response and Protocols are followed. (12/1/2020)
CASA is a separate nonprofit organization that exists outside of the Child Protective Services state system. Volunteer advocates 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. Volunteer advocates thoroughly examine a child's case, have knowledge of community resources, and can offer outside-the-box recommendations independent of state policy limitations and restrictions. 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.
CASA 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. CASA does not file legal paperwork with the court. However, CASA does provide crucial background information that assists the court in making decisions.
A foster parent opens their home temporarily to a child or group of children in need of placement. CASA 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.
Learn more about why CASA volunteers can’t be foster parents at the same time in our blog post, Avoiding Conflicts of Interest: Why CASA volunteers can’t be foster parents.
Find out why CASA makes for a great "prerequisite" to becoming a foster parent in our blog post, CASA: Your Foster Parenting Prerequisite.
Once a case is over and children have safely reached permanency, the need for CASA ends, and CASA requires that volunteers end their contact with the children and family after a case closes. If a volunteer advocate remains in a child's life, they become a reminder and an anchor to a time of instability and confusion for children, so it is important to have a healthy transition out of their lives at this time.
In certain occasions, a teen who ages out of care at age 18 may choose to keep their CASA volunteer in their lives as a supportive adult connection, but no longer in the role of advocate or guardian ad litem.
Learn about how volunteer advocates wrap up the case and say goodbye to kids in our blog post, Healthy Goodbyes: Why We Leave.
Check out our Top 10 Reasons to be a CASA Volunteer blog post, watch the animated Why You Should Become a CASA Volunteer video, and and just for fun... read about volunteering with CASA from a Dr. Seuss perspective!