CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers sworn in by a judge as "Friends of the Court." These volunteers are trained and supported by paid CASA staff to monitor the court cases of children aged birth to eighteen who have been adjudicated as abused, neglected and/or dependent by the juvenile court system. CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to serve as an advocate for the purpose of speaking in the child's best interest.
A potential CASA must attend 35 hours of training and participate in a minimum of 3 hours of court observation prior to being sworn in and assigned as a child's advocate in court. Once trained, volunteer advocates are assigned to observe a child's case through its duration. In fiscal year 2011, the average case was 30 months long.
Once assigned, Advocates voluntarily follow the cases and report their findings to juvenile court judges through objective, fact-based written reports. They provide information about the child's life, foster placement, stress in the family, medical ailments, educational needs or a personal need such as, glasses or counseling. This knowledge serves to better inform judges, who are then able to make educated decisions about each child's placement, treatment needs and permanency in a timelier manner. CASA Advocates visit their assigned children once a month, attend all meetings surrounding the child's well-being and are present in court when the case is up for review. In fiscal year 2011, CASA of DuPage County's Advocates spent over 6,000 hours working on their cases and drove over 14,000 miles – all on their own time.
CASA of DuPage County, Inc., was founded in April of 1993 when it entered into a formal agreement with the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court, DuPage County, Illinois. During its first year of operation, CASA of DuPage County, Inc. supported 15 volunteer advocates who were the voices for 33 abused and neglected children. By 2011, a total of 301 children benefited by having one of 154 volunteers as their CASA Advocate.
CASA of DuPage County and 36 other local CASA programs in Illinois belong to National CASA. Every state has CASA programs but not every county does. All programs must meet stringent quality assurance standards set by National CASA to ensure quality service for the children CASA represents. With local programs in only 36 out of Illinois' 102 counties, CASA provides a volunteer advocate for only 19% of the state's abused and neglected children.
CASA of DuPage County does this at no charge to the taxpayers, the court system or the families involved. However, Illinois is one of only seven states that do not fund their CASA programs. As such CASA of DuPage County is a separate nonprofit organization that relies heavily on community support, special events, individual contributions and grants to provide these critical, unduplicated services.