Our History

Our History

CASA for Kids, Inc.
Court Appointed Special Advocated
Background and Program Description
 
      CASA for Kids , Inc. was established in 2002 as a 501(c) (3) organization following a yearlong feasibility study. The study was initiated by a group of concerned citizens, child welfare agencies, and juvenile court judge, the Honorable Katherine B. Emery, following the death of an abused and neglected young girl who got "lost in the cracks” of the system. Judge Emery recognized a need for an "objective fact-finder for the court” who would focus on the needs and wishes of the child. That fact finder would make recommendations as to the best interests of the child, thus helping the court make more informed decisions.
 
The mission of CASA for Kids, Inc. is to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the Washington County juvenile court system. By training Community volunteers to serve as fact finders and speak for the children in court, children’s needs are met to ensure safety and permanency in their lives.
 
As part of a national system of CASA organizations, CASA for Kids, Inc. is one of only twenty two CASA programs serving counties in Pennsylvania. The National CASA Association establishes national program standards and provides technical assistance, guides and other resources to assist program development, but does not govern the county program. During a 2005 review, CASA for Kids received recognition for meeting or exceeding all standards of excellence. The value of CASA for Kids’ work in the community is demonstrated in the excellent working relationship developed with the juvenile court system, children and youth services and the related child welfare agencies.
 
The CASA for Kids primary goal is to recruit, train and support volunteers advocates to work one-on one with children referred by the Washington County Juvenile Court System. The CASA volunteers’ primary focus is on the child and his or her needs. In advocating for that child, the volunteer works with the family, foster families, caseworkers from Children and Youth Services (CYS) and many other types of child welfare providers. To prepare the CASA volunteer for this demanding work, they participate in an intensive 30-hour training process (not including outside reading and homework) and at least two days of court observations. The training consists of valuable information about child development, legal information, child & family behavior issues, mental health issues, the child welfare system, sample case scenarios, communication, and reporting guidelines. Upon completion of the training the volunteer is officially sworn in by the juvenile court judge and become a ‘friend of the court’ as an official CASA volunteer.
 
A CASA volunteer makes a significant commitment of their time to work with the children and families to provide continuity and an objective perspective to a child’s life. In fact, many of our CASA volunteers have been involved with their child for 2 or 3 years in spite of turnover in caseworkers and attorneys. Our volunteers donate an average of 10 - 20 hours a month to investigate and monitor their case and become acquainted with the children by making frequent visits. CASA volunteers are included in all pre-trail conferences and all in-chamber discussions/ testimonies and / or depositions, and at all court hearings. The volunteer advocates sit at the counsel table and are considered by the court to be a party to the case. Each volunteer is afforded individual time at each court hearing to speak on behalf of the child. They also detail findings in a written court report and make recommendations regarding what placement, service and visitation are in the child’s best interest. CASA volunteers remain on a case until a safe and permanent home is established and the case closes.
 
Only the most serious cases are referred to CASA for Kids, Inc. by the judges in the juvenile court system- children who have been severely abused, sexually assaulted, neglected, and/or have spent most of their lives in foster care. These are children who desperately need one individual to look after their interests and needs.
 
Children matched with a CASA volunteer will get the services they need, be it eyeglasses, dental care or mental health therapy. Also as important, the Judge will know each child’s age, his or her up-to-date school performance, medical status and emotional state. The CASA volunteer personalizes that child for the court.
 
Currently, CASA for Kids has 45 active volunteers working with 76 children. To date over 568 children have been referred to the program, of which 426 children’s cases have been resolved through the efforts of our volunteers. Unfortunately, at any given time there are more than 300 children in Washington County’s juvenile court system that could benefit from the support of a CASA volunteer. For every closed or resolved case, there is another case being opened. The court system’s support for the value of this program is evident in the growing number of case referrals to CASA. We currently have 21 children waiting assignment to new volunteer advocates.
 
With the increasing number of cases being referred to CASA, we need to continually recruit and train new volunteers who will take on new cases, as well as provide ongoing care and support to prevent burn-out for these hard-working volunteers who give so much in difficult times. Our goal is to expand the volunteer program so that each advocate is working with only one case at a time.
 
In just 11 short years, CASA for Kids has grown from an all-volunteer organization of board members, staff and advocates serving five children. Currently on staff, we have a part-time Executive Director, Program Director and Administrative Assistant to help support the CASA Volunteer Advocates.
 
The Board of Director is actively engaged in the CASA for Kids program including participation in fundraising, volunteer recruitment and training, as well as policy making, fiscal management, and general oversight of the program. This group committed individuals and professionals represent a strong cross-section of the Washington County community from law, youth related services, to corporate business. Proudly, 100% of the board members and staff contribute to the program.
 
Support for the program is provided through donations and grants from community residents, and local business and corporations. Currently, approximately one-third of our budget is support is by individual gifts and donation, one-fourth through special events and fundraising activities, such as Chefs for CASA and Clays for CASA events, and less than one-half by local grants. Additionally, it is important to note that CASA for Kids receives no federal, state or local government dollars for program support.
 
We are proud that CASA for Kids is a community-based organization in the true sense of the term; formed and supported by committed and concerned individuals from the Washington County community.
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