CASA volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected child victims

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Advocates for Children
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Speaking up for abused and neglected children through Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA volunteer. Our vision is that all children live and thrive in safe, permanent, nurturing homes. The value of our volunteers' inkind donation is nearly one million dollars

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Advocates for Children provides CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers to serve abused and neglected children in the 18th Judicial District of Colorado. Over 6,000 square miles, this district includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties. Our home office is located in the city of Aurora in Arapahoe County. It is 100 miles one way from this office to the Lincoln County courthouse in Hugo and 40 miles to the Elbert County courthouse in Kiowa. We have given the acronym LEAD (Lincoln, Elbert And Douglas) for those outlying counties, and that term will be used to identify our outlying operations. We have a satellite office in Elizabeth, Colorado for Elbert County, our Douglas County staff work out of the Sheriff’s office in Castle Rock, and Lincoln County’s program manager works out of her home in Limon.

CASAs are recruited, trained, supervised and recognized by our program staff to be a voice for an abused and neglected child. After appointment by the court, they have full confidential access to records and professionals in order to complete their own independent investigation into the family dynamic and the child’s situation. Through court reports and even personal testimony, they give the court their detailed observations and recommendations on services, therapy and – most importantly – the final permanent placement for these child victims. This may involve termination of parental rights, adoption or reunification with the family. The CASA is often a major support system for the parents, but their first charge is to the safety and well-being of the child(ren).

In July 2007 a new I.T. consultant introduced us to the idea of an exchange server. Prior to this new technology, our LEAD personnel could not access our server for information, documents, and/or reports. They also could not save their work to our organization’s overall client database. Any document they needed we had to send via fax, e-mail or regular mail, which was terribly inefficient and cumbersome. The turn-around of information was not timely, which was critical when we were dealing with children’s safety and lives. For example, a volunteer may have information about new abuse and violence in the home and need to call an emergency hearing to get immediate court response to protect those children. We could not rely upon our database to have up-to-date statistics, reports or volunteer information. At that time court reports prepared by LEAD volunteers could not be sent by e-mail to the courthouse or to our home office. Without remote access to our server, the impact on the productivity of our mission and our volunteers’ information was considerable. This was even true for our Arapahoe County staff as they could not access information from home or the courthouse.

In addition, we did not have an easy, efficient kind of web-access to our e-mail. As abuse and neglect does not necessarily fall into business hours, and our staff is committed to round-the-clock support of our CASA volunteers on their cases, having access to our Outlook remotely has optimized the delivery of our mission. It has allowed for personnel to work from home, reducing our mileage costs and providing flexibility of work hours as a benefit in these tight economic times.

Finally, we relied upon our staff to bring equipment from our remote locations into our Aurora office for repairs or troubleshooting, which caused significant delays and lack of productivity. Now our I.T. person can access their computer remotely and reset passwords, update administrative records, troubleshoot spyware problems, etc.

Because most of our equipment was donated and therefore older, we were able to purchase from Microsoft the XP software upgrades along with the exchange server licenses, for a savings of $26,000. However, during the following year, the system was not ideal as the LEAD counties staff could only really use the exchange server and access our volunteer/case database (an access formatted database) by coming in on a remote desktop. That meant we had to have dedicated PCs and hours for this staff to enter our system. We had to juggle work hours, call to see if someone was using the system, kick people off periodically, and it was a very slow log-on process. Because of this logistical complexity, we did not allow our Arapahoe staff to work remotely either. Additionally, our older equipment in our home office was very slow and significant time was spent logging on or moving around between documents and databases. Obviously, our productivity was still not up to par.

We had the chance to receive the services of another IT person whose mother is a CASA volunteer. Through his assistance, we realized our best situation to avoid the hassles and slow-downs with remote log-on, was to set up a terminal server situation, using our old server, and purchasing a new server for our information. Again, as our equipment is older, once staff logged onto the terminal server, they’ve been able to move around the system so much more quickly thereby increasing their productivity. We can now purchase less expensive “thin clients” that will work with this system. Our database of cases, clients and volunteers is more stable in this new environment as well. The log-on process for our LEAD staff has at least tripled in speed, and there are no glitches or problems if they all try to log onto the system at the same time. If we find there is a need for other outsourcing or home-based staff, we are prepared to meet that need. Economies of administrative costs only mean more funds for program in a non-profit organization. For example, we now have a grant assistant who can help write grants from home, reducing our overhead and releasing an office for use by a new case coordinator. Increasing our staff only means we can take on an increased caseload of 30 cases per month with approximately 70 children and 30 volunteers.

The ultimate outcome of these productivity optimizations is the fact that we have been able to add part time case coordinators in Elbert and Douglas Counties, and thereby serve more vulnerable child victims. In 2006, prior to the migration to an exchange server, we were serving a combined number of 122 children in the LEAD counties. At the end of 2008, after the implementation of both the exchange and terminal servers, our numbers increased 34% to 163 children served in those counties. We are going to add a new case coordinator in August 2009 who will increase our services rendered in Arapahoe County as well. All of these improvements are as a result of the Microsoft donations we’ve been able to take advantage of, and the impact of those improvements is felt by all of the children who now have a productive CASA volunteer and case coordinator advocating for their best interests. Crisis can be handled in a timely manner. Logistics are no longer an obstacle to producing the best outcomes for these children’s lives.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery