A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is appointed as a guardian ad litem by a District Court judge to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court.
A CASA guardian ad litem conducts an investigation and advises the court in writing on what is in that child’s best interest. The CASA guardian ad litem also advocates for services that the child may need. The foundation of the role is the CASA guardian ad litem's relationship with his/her assigned child.
A Maine CASA staff member will contact you when a case becomes available in your geographic region. He or she will provide you with a brief overview of the case, what brought the Department to file a Petition for Child Protection Order, the safety concerns alleged by the Department, and the scheduled court dates. It is entirely up to the CASA if he or she would like to be appointed.
If you would like to be appointed, Maine CASA staff will contact the court and ask that a judge appoint you in the matter.
To prepare a report for the court, the CASA guardian ad litem meets with the child, the child’s parents, other family members, social workers, school officials, health providers and others who are knowledgeable about the child. The CASA guardian ad litem reviews all records pertaining to the child - school, medical and caseworker reports, and other documents.
Caseworkers are employed by the DHHS and oversee many cases at a time. A CASA guardian ad litem is an agent of the court. The CASA guardian ad litem does not replace a social worker on a case; he or she is an additional person who is assigned by the court to be the judge’s “eyes and ears.”
In the eyes of the court, they do not differ. CASA guardians ad litem and attorney guardians ad litem are both subject to the same Maine Rules for Guardians ad Litem. However, CASA guardians ad litem have more responsibilities pursuant to the Maine CASA Policies and Procedures. Attorney GALs must visit with the child at least once every three months, and file a report with the court at least once every six months. Maine CASA GALs are required to visit with the child at least once every 30 days and must file a report for every court appearance. The additional time a CASA guardian ad litem spends with the child allows him or her to better advise the court on the child’s wishes. CASA guardians ad litem provide unique insight to judges because of the time spent with the child.
CASA guardians ad litem come from all walks of life, with a variety of educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 76,000 CASA volunteers nationally. Fifty percent of the CASA guardians ad litem nationally are also employed in full-time or part-time jobs. In Maine, we have approximately 130 CASA guardians ad litem; this is not enough to serve all the children who need a court advocate.
The number varies, but an average caseload is one to two. How many cases a CASA guardian ad litem has is entirely up to the CASA but usually it is no more than two.
Research suggests that children who have a CASA guardian ad litem have a better chance of finding permanent homes than children without a CASA assigned, and they and their families receive more needed services than children who do not have a CASA guardian ad litem.
Each case is different. A CASA guardian ad litem usually spends about 10 hours doing research and conducting interviews in the first weeks of the case. More complicated cases take longer. After the initial work on a case, CASA guardians ad litem usually spend no more than 10-15 hours a month.
The CASA guardian ad litem continues until the case is permanently resolved. One of the primary benefits of the CASA program is that, unlike other participants (judge, parent attorneys, caseworkers, etc.), the CASA guardian ad litem is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for the child.
In order to begin the process of becoming a CASA volunteer you must:
1. Be 21 years of age with a high school diploma or GED.
2. Complete a Maine CASA application form.
3. Submit releases with your original signature for both a criminal and DHHS background check.
4. Have three non-family members submit a reference form on your behalf.
5. Submit readable copies of both your driver's license and proof of automobile insurance.
Once your application is complete, Maine CASA will determine if you will be asked to complete a personal interview. If you are selected for the interview, and if you are deemed a good fit for training, you may be invited to our 30-hour volunteer training program. Once training is complete, Maine CASA will do a final, post-training interview with you. If it appears at that time that the program is a good fit, we will invite you to serve as a Maine CASA guardian ad litem.
After completion of the initial training, volunteers are sworn in as officers of the court. This gives them the legal authority to conduct research on the child's situation and submit reports to the court.