Court Appointed Special Advocates
Court Appointed Special Advocates
History of the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program
In 1977, Seattle Judge David Soukup was concerned over making decisions about abused and neglected children’s lives without sufficient information. He conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak in court for the best interests of these children. This Seattle program was so successful that soon Judges across the country began utilizing Court Appointed Special Advocates.
In 1986, the Honorable Emanuel Cassimatis introduced the CASA concept to York County by inviting community members and professionals interested in child welfare to join in establishing a task force to explore the possibility of a local CASA program. While there were CASA programs nationwide at that time, there were none in Pennsylvania.
The first group of York County CASA volunteers began training in the fall of 1987; the first case was assigned in January 1988. By 1996, the York County CASA program had become an established county agency with three full-time positions; CASA Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, and Community Outreach and Educational Facilitator. Since then, an additional part-time support staff was added. CASA has full support of the Judges and the county commissioners.
In 2010, over 955 CASA/GAL programs were in operation with over 75,000 volunteers serving approximately 240,000 children. (CASA Annual Report 2010)
The National CASA Association provides leadership for CASA programs, along with: holding an annual conference, publishing a newsletter, and promoting CASA through public relations efforts. National CASA offers consultation and resources that help start CASA programs, and provides vital assistance to established programs.
For more information on the National CASA Association,
or visit their website at
Pennsylvania Court Appointed Special Advocate Programs
Pennsylvania currently houses 20 local programs serving 21 counties, 18 that operate as independent non-profit organizations and three that are funded by their county governments. Mr. Dennis Hockensmith is the PA CASA Executive Director. Currently the PA CASA Association continues to operate by a diverse funding stream that includes grant dollars from National CASA, as well as corporate sponsorships, fund raising events, and other grant opportunities.
On December 12, 1998, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge signed into law an amendment to the Juvenile Act, which addressed the roles and responsibilities of a CASA volunteer. Volunteer standards were developed through the collaboration of local programs and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges Commission and were formally accepted by the commission in July of 1999.
For more information on the PA CASA Association call 717-728-2313 or visit their website at http://www.pacasa.org
What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate?
CASA volunteers are trained community members who are appointed by the judge to represent the best interests of abused and/or neglected children in Dependency Court.
The CASA volunteer has three main responsibilities:
- to serve as a fact-finder for the judge by thoroughly researching the background and family dynamics of each assigned case;
- to report information gathered and make recommendations to the judge that represent the child’s best interests; and
- to monitor court orders to ensure that services are provided to and utilized by the child and his/her family; concurrently, the CASA volunteer pushes the system to ensure the child’s case is brought to a swift and appropriate conclusion.
What does it take to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer?
CASA volunteers come from all lifestyles with a variety of professional, educational, and cultural backgrounds. Aside from their CASA volunteer work, many work full-time. Other volunteers are retired, full-time or part-time students, or people who work from home. A volunteer must be 21 years of age, have a desire to help children, and the dedication to stay involved for the duration of a case, which could be in excess of 18 to 24 months. It takes objectivity, communication and negotiation skills, and the ability to work with a variety of people. No legal expertise is required. Most CASA volunteers work on one case at a time.
York County CASA currently has a hard-working, dedicated group of volunteers who give generously of their time. Groups of trainees are sworn in at least twice a year.
York County CASA has a waiting list of abused and/or neglected children who are in need of advocates.
What makes a Court Appointed Advocate different from a caseworker?
A CASA volunteer is free to advocate for what is in the best interest of a child by following National CASA Association standards and local policies. An amendment to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act authorizes and empowers the CASA role
CASA volunteers usually have only one case at a time and never more than three. Caseworkers can have as many as 30 cases, with a number of children on each case.
About Court Appointed Special Advocate Training…
Training encompasses 35-40 hours of useful information. CASA training utilizes local service providers as presenters and covers topics such as community services, dynamics of abuse, cultural diversity, advocacy, child development, and effects of physical and sexual abuse. The final session includes the Court’s expectations of the CASA and a swearing-in ceremony. Immediately following, CASA sponsors a celebration to which new volunteers are encouraged to invite friends and family.
In March 2010, there were almost 16,000 of Pennsylvania's children in foster care. As reported in the Annual Child Abuse report (published in April 2011 by the Department of Public Welfare), over 24,000 reports of suspected child abuse were received in Pennsylvania in 2010.
Why should I volunteer in York County?
York County consistently ranks within the top three or four counties in the Commonwealth to report and confirm child abuse. Because these numbers are so high, there are children in our own community that need our help.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate will work for the best interest of the child, giving them the opportunity to thrive in a safe and permanent home. By working with a child one at a time, you can make a difference in their life. There are many children in York County who need a CASA volunteer to make their voice heard.
Stand up for an abused child - become a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
To find out about volunteer opportunities and our next training session contact Maggie O’Brennan- Community Outreach and Educational Facilitator at
To learn more about the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program
call the CASA office at 717-771-9754
or call toll free 1-800-441-2025
or contact us via e-mail
Ann Elicker - CASA Coordinator
Melanie Ferree-Wurster - Volunteer Coordinator