Social Work Students Benefit from CASA Volunteering
An article published in 2014 looked at a three-year program to recruit, train and support MSW students as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers. CASA recruits, trains, and supports highly trained volunteers to provide a voice for foster children in the dependency courts.
The school and CASA program were in an unnamed western state. The collaboration intended to provide Title IV-E students who would work in child welfare with an in-depth experience of foster care from the viewpoint of the children and youth involved.
CASA staff expressed concern about the program as they were unsure if the students would be able to fulfill a full 12-month commitment because if they quit early it would be detrimental to the foster youth they worked with. This concern was unfounded as each of the students completed the 12-month commitment and felt that it was a valuable experience for their future work in child welfare.
To recruit students for this special volunteer opportunity, CASA held informational meetings for MSW students to hear about the program. Only about 20% of the students who attended the informational meeting decided to participate in the program. Those who did not participate cited the time commitment as the reason they decided not to participate. The participating students attended a 32-hour CASA training and enrolled in a 1 credit class through their graduate program that emphasized first person accounts of foster care, as well as supportive discussion led by the professor about challenges they faced with their CASA foster child or youth.
Although many CASA programs express concern about using graduate students as CASA volunteers this program shows that if CASA and the school collaborate to provide information, training, and support to Title IV-E MSW students may be an ideal group to participate in a CASA program. Not only would they provide the CASA program with much needed volunteers, but it would also allow the future child welfare workers to see how the system works for an individual child, building both empathy and knowledge about how to improve the system.