Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pro Bono Legal Service Opportunities for Students: CASA

The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Project 
at the Appalachian School of Law

The Appalachian School of Law offers three pro bono service programs. Today, I'll talk about the first program -- the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.  In later postings, here and here, I profile the VITA tax service program and the Great Eastern Trail project, respectively.

Court Appointed Special Advocates
CASA is a national organization managed on a state and local basis through the court system.  The 29th Judicial District, which includes Buchanan County, employs case managers to supervise volunteers from the community.  ASL students serve as the majority of the local volunteers.  
ASL students spend 30 hours in intensive training at the school to learn to advocate for children in court.  ASL provides a classroom and materials for the training.   The trainer brings in speakers from the Department of Social Services (DSS), the police department, medical officials, mental health workers, and anyone else in the community who could provide insight to volunteers about how the community responds to child abuse and foster care.

At the conclusion of training, the case managers assign each student a case involving a child or children whom DSS has taken into custody.  In the custody proceeding, attorneys represent both DSS and the parents.  
Most importantly, CASA volunteers provide a voice for the children in court.  The volunteers visit with the children, their foster families, their birth families, doctors, teachers, friends, and anyone else involved with the children.  The student-volunteer then prepares a report and testifies in court on behalf of the children.  The volunteer commits to remain on the case until the court terminates the rights of the parents, the child is placed for adoption, or the court orders that the child be reunified with his rehabilitated parents.  This process can take up to two years.
Volunteers commit approximately sixty hours a year to each assigned case.  They work primarily during the school year, but they may continue throughout the summer to monitor the assigned child and his or her family. 
The program offers both obvious and subtle benefits.  CASA volunteers can better assure that the court hears and understands the needs and interests of abused and neglected children.  Volunteers see a sad side of human nature that they may not have seen before, but they can provide vulnerable children justice and a better future.  The CASA program also gives students a substantial opportunity to provide pro bono services to citizens of Buchanan County, including its tiniest.

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