Q: Can I still volunteer as a new advocate during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Yes. Virtual training is available, so you can still get prepared for your first case. Rest assured that CASA and the Iowa courts have put in place all possible safety measures, including virtual court hearings where needed. Contact your local CASA coordinator.
Q: How much time does a case require?
A: Cases vary depending on the circumstances, the number of siblings, and the placement of the children. Most advocates spend about 10 hours a month.
Q: I work full time. Can I still volunteer?
A: Most CASAs have full-time jobs. Many of your case activities can be done in the evenings and on weekends, but you will have to attend court hearings and other commitments during the day. It’s helpful to consult with your employer about whether you’ll be allowed released time for some of your CASA work. Most employers are supportive.
Q: I’m not very confident about my writing, and I know I’ll have to write reports to the court. Is there help available?
A: Yes. First, you’ll be trained in report writing during your initial training period. After that, you're likely to have a CASA Coach assigned to you who will review, revise, and edit your report drafts. Your coach can also consult with you about how best to approach the report. Your Program Coordinator will review and edit as well. So before your report is submitted to the court, it will be in great shape!
Q: I’m nervous about appearing in court. What will I have to do?
A: During most hearings, you’ll observe and simply be there for your assigned children. You may be addressed by the court for further input as needed. In rare instances, a CASA can be called to testify. But judges and attorneys are aware that advocates are volunteers. Court is also a learning experience, especially for new advocates.
Q: How many times will I have to go to court?
A: Each case is different, but over the course of your appointment there can be multiple hearings for a single case.
Q: What kind of software will I need to fulfill my CASA role?
A: You’ll need consistent access to the internet. You’ll keep your notes in CAMS (Iowa Child Advocacy Match System), an online system that is specifically for advocates. You’ll also access the court system over the internet, where you’ll be able to see legal information about your case, including reports and motions. It’s better to access these systems on a device other than a phone.
Q: How much travel is involved? Do I get reimbursed for mileage?
A: Depending on where the children in your case are placed, there can be travel, although most of it will be in your local area. You’ll probably need access to a car. You’ll keep track of your mileage and report it each month when you do your monthly report, but there is no reimbursement. Your mileage is likely to be deductible on your tax return, but you’ll need to consult your tax preparer.
Q: Is the CASA program part of DHS?
A: No. But advocates consult often with the DHS workers assigned to their cases.
Q: What people are typically involved in a case?
A: There are many people who work together to help children who are “in the system,” including various case workers, attorneys, therapists, and sometimes school personnel. Each child usually has a GAL (guardian ad litem), who is an attorney representing only the child.
Q; If I create a strong bond with the children in my case, can I stay in touch with them after the case is over?
A: No. Once a case has concluded, it’s best for the children if the CASA has no further contact. Sometimes it’s a good idea to explain that to the children before the case is resolved so that they don’t feel abandoned.
Q: If I find that volunteering for CASA is just too much for me or if my circumstances change, can I quit?
A: Advocates are strongly encouraged to see a case to its conclusion, but because you’re a volunteer, you may exit if you need to. Most advocates have a good idea after the initial training whether the CASA role fits them. If, after training, you feel being a CASA is not for you, that’s an appropriate time to back away.