A CASA volunteer advocates for children who are involved in the juvenile court system as a result of abuse and/or neglect. Volunteers investigate, negotiate, monitor and advocate for the best interest of the child. CASAs advise the St. Joseph Probate Court by testifying at court hearings and by submitting thorough written reports. The reports include a factual history as well as recommendations for the child's case plan, including placement and treatment. The program has standing to file appropriate legal motions and request hearings on behalf of the child. CASAs participate in case conferences with the St. Joseph County Department of Child Services.
Indiana law requires the appointment of either a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or a trained Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in abuse and neglect cases under certain circumstances and provides for discretionary appointment in others. If a child is alleged to be a Child In Need of Services (CHINS) because he presents a risk to himself or others, is born with drugs or alcohol in his system or is at-risk as a result of pre-natal substance abuse, is not receiving appropriate medical care or the whereabouts of his parent is unknown, the court should appoint a Guardian Ad Litem or CASA. The Court has the discretion to appoint a GAL or CASA if the petition alleges other statutory standards for a Child In Need of Services, but shall appoint if the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child denies the allegations of a petition. Moreover, if a child becomes the subject of a petition to terminate the parent/child relationship and the parent objects, the court must appoint a GAL or CASA for the child. In addition to abuse and neglect cases, Indiana law allows for, and some Indiana courts are now appointing CASA volunteers in custody and paternity cases. Although the number of volunteers who provide an invaluable service to Indiana trial courts is remarkable, the need for more volunteers is still unmet.