Monday, March 19, 2012

CASA volunteers

CASA Volunteers - But it gets even worse. Many juvenile courts across the country are now handing off official fact finding and decision making responsibilities in these cases to CASA volunteers, people who are only required to have 30 hours training. And the juvenile courts are usually assigning these volunteers to the most egregious and complex cases of child abuse.

The public has been... thoroughly wooed to the feel good idea of having CASA volunteers to 'protect the interests of the child' in these cases. Indeed, there is great benefit for the child to be assigned a special person to talk to and even to advocate for the child through this process.

The whole CASA program would be just fine if it ended there. But juvenile courts routinely swear these volunteers in as official court fact finders (investigators), as representatives of the child's stated interests, as representatives of the child's best interests, and, as formulators of recommendations to the court as to the best disposition of the child. A recent national study, the Packard Foundation funded Caliber Study, finds that juvenile court judges adopt ALL the recommendations of the CASA volunteers in over 60% of cases.

This is a complete mockery and travesty of any and all notions of justice, and is particularly contemptful of mother's and children's rights. For so many reasons. But just for one, imagine if your surgeon sought out and took the recommendation of whether to amputate your leg from a volunteer with 30 hours training. You would be outraged! And you would never deal with this surgeon again. Yet this is exactly what juvenile court judges across the country are doing on the question of whether or not to remove the child from the mother, in the most complex and egregious of cases. They are turning over their fact finding, evaluation, and decision making responsibilities by swearing in persons with 30 hours training to act in any or all these official capacities.

The courts say they are doing this because they want to be sure to hear the children's voices. But you only have to think for a moment to realize what the courts are really doing is avoiding the costs of a professional investigator, expert, or professional representation that is minimally needed to guarantee even minimal judicial standards for children.

And these courts have the nerve to accuse the mothers of failure to protect!
The point is that CASA can be a great program. But just like all other programs, each individual volunteer is different. When a judge allows a single volunteer to have such a large impact on a case they are essentially going against the due process clause. Yes, please help our children. But please have an open mind and don't let the fear of the idea of "child abuse" cloud reality. "For the safety of the child" is a powerful phrase, but it isn't always an accurate or true statement, and often leads to mistakes. Again, keep an open mind and consider that families as a whole and all the other facts that are in play.