Child Custody Advocate Program (CCAP)
Standards of Practice, Protocol, and Procedures
The following Standards of Practice, Protocol, and Procedures of the Child
Custody Advocate Program (CCAP), under the auspice of the YWCA of Northcentral
PA, have been developed and are proposed for a Child Custody Advocate Program to
conduct assessments in custody and access matters for the Lycoming County Court
of Common Pleas, Lycoming County, PA. These Court Appointed Special Advocates,
with specialized training in Child Custody Advocacy (CCAP Volunteers) will be
highly trained Child Custody Advocates who perform these assessments on a
volunteer basis under the direct supervision of Christine Doty, Director of
Child Advocacy who reports to Diane Glenwright, Executive Director, YWCA of
The Standards of Practice, Protocol, and Procedures of the Child Custody
Advocate Program were developed using guidelines by the Association of Family
and Conciliation Courts. They are also intended to supplement the American
Psychological Association’s guidelines for child custody and access assessments.
Furthermore, these guidelines intend to provide a description of the minimally
necessary expectations for a custody/access assessment to assist the Court in
determining what arrangements are in the best interests of the child.
In response to issues raised before the court in child custody disputes and
recognition of the need for an objective party to assess the situation in an
effort to assist the Court in insuring the safety and well-being of the children
subject to custody disputes, CASA of Lycoming County is proposing this program
to provide in-depth custody assessments to help facilitate the Court’s
determination as to the best interests of the children subject to custody and
Custody assessment protocol includes interviews of both parents; separate home
visits to both parents and “significant others”; additional separate interviews
with the children at a neutral site such as their school; collateral contacts
with teachers, neighbors, attending mental health professionals, etc.; local,
state, and national civil and criminal record checks, if needed; and any other
fact-finding needed as determined to be necessary by the advocate.
Custody assessment is a process through which recommendations concerning the
custody of, parenting of, and access to children can be made to the court in the
cases in which parents are unable to work out their own parenting plans. An
assessment may be requested by attorneys, law guardians, therapists, other
attending professionals or parents, but must be ordered by the Judge presiding
over the case. Highly trained volunteer advocates will perform the assessments.
The child advocate will never act as an advocate for one parent or another.
The primary purpose of a child custody assessment is to assess the family and
provide the court with objective information and recommendations. The assessment
goals of a custody assessment shall be to (a) identity the developmental needs
of the child(ren); (b) identify the strengths, vulnerabilities, and needs of all
other members of the family; (c) identify the positive and negative family
interactions; (d) provide the court with recommendations and supporting
information, through a written report.
The Judge will refer the case to CASA of Lycoming County. Any child
previously adjudicated dependent shall receive an automatic referral for a Child
- The Director will review the referral for appropriateness, completeness, and
- The Director will assign the case to an available child custody advocate (CCA
- CASA of Lycoming County will provide to the Court an Order to Appoint for the
- The Director or Program Supervisor and advocate will meet and discuss the
file and form a plan for completion of duties.
- The advocate will make contact with the parties involved, schedule interviews
and home visits and conduct an assessment.
- At the conclusion of the assessment, the advocate will submit a written
report to the Director for review and possible revision no later than 10 days
prior to the next scheduled court appearance.
- The completed written report will be signed and submitted to the Judge and
attorneys representing legal parties no later than seven (7) days prior to the
next scheduled court appearance. If parties are not represented by counsel, the
Child Custody Advocate report will be hand-delivered to the party 24 hours in
advance of the hearing. No copy of the report will be placed in the record on
file in the prothonotary’s office.
- CCA volunteers will not attend the custody trial unless a subpoena is
received. In the event that a CCA Volunteer is subpoenaed to testify a fee of
$150 will be paid in advance to the YWCA of Northcentral PA CASA program by the
- The advocate will remain on the case until dismissed by the Judge.
The advocate shall clarify with all parties, the assessment procedure,
credentials of the advocate, the mutual responsibilities of the advocate and the
parties and the limits of confidentiality. The advocate is required to disclose
to the parties and their attorneys whether or not a prior relationship existed
or exists between the advocate and any of the parties.
If a previous relationship or knowledge of any of the parties does exist, the
issue will be raised and discussed in order to assure each party that
objectivity will not be compromised by any prior knowledge or contact. A
decision to whether to proceed or not will be made at the conclusion of this
discussion or following discussion between the parties and their attorneys.
Communication between the advocate and the attorneys shall be conducted so as to
avoid any question of ex parte communication. Communication shall be through the
office and staff of CASA of Lycoming County and may be best accomplished by
conference call or in writing with copies to both attorneys. Communication
between a designated Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) and the advocate is not subject to
these guidelines. Communication between the GAL and the advocate serves to
further the best interest of the children.
Child Custody Advocates shall have formal education and training in advocacy,
child development, child and adult relationships, interviewing techniques,
family systems, child abuse, domestic abuse, confidentiality, conflict
resolution, professional service by referral process, objectivity, children’s
rights, and parental rights. In addition, by formal training or work experience,
the advocate shall have a working knowledge and understanding of the
complexities of the divorce process, awareness of the legal issues of divorce,
and an understanding of the many issues, legal, social, familial, and cultural,
involved in custody and visitation disputes.
All advocates will have received 30 hours of child welfare training and an
additional eight hours of highly specific custody training. All advocates will
have observed court proceedings for at least 4 hours and undergone extensive
apprenticeship regimen under the direct supervision of the Director or Case
Manager. All advocates will undergo a background check and reference review.
All advocates are required to advise the Director of any potential conflict of
interest or personal situation that might prevent them from carrying out their
All Child Custody Advocates are required to attend at least 12 hours of formal
in-service custody specific training every 12 months. At least 6 hours of this
training will contain content specific to custody.
At the conclusion of every assessment performed, all advocates are required to
debrief with the Director or Case Manager and address any issues raised by the
advocate or the Director/Case Manager.
All advocates are required to make contact with the Director or Case Manager at
least once per week to advise the coordinator of availability, case progress,
and volunteer hours.
Advocates can be asked by the Director to resign from the program for the
- Breach of Confidentiality
- Conduct deemed inappropriate by CASA of Lycoming County staff
- Conflict of interests
- Personal biases or agendas
- Providing legal advice
- Providing direct services to clients
- Inadequate performance
- Non-completion of program requirements
The advocate shall determine the scope of each assessment, including who is to
be included other than the litigants. In general, a diverse number of procedures
for information gathering as possible and feasible to the specific assessment is
encouraged. These may include interviewing, observation, use of collaterals, and
home visits. It is important that the advocate maintain a constant sense of
balance by obtaining similar types of information about each parent (when
applicable) and spending similar amounts of time with each parent under similar
circumstances, except as noted below.
Each advocate may use different procedures relative to interviews, the necessity
and feasibility of home visits, and the circumstances under which the child is
interviewed. It is desirable that all parties involved in a dispute, as well as
any other significant persons, be evaluated or interviewed by the advocate.
- Adult Interviews: Each adult shall be evaluated individually, and comparable
assessment techniques shall be used with all of the significant adults. If
special procedures, such as psychological testing are necessary because of
specific issues raised by one party, it will not be necessary to recommend the
same for all parties.
- Child Interviews: Each child shall be evaluated individually with procedures
appropriate to the developmental level of the child. These procedures may
include observation, verbal or play interview. It is not appropriate to ask
children to choose between their parents, because in most families, children
need good access to both parents following the divorce and should not be placed
in the position of having to choose. Information about the child’s feelings,
thoughts, and wishes about each parent can be obtained through techniques that
will not be harmful or induce guilt. The child shall be observed with both
parents in similar settings.
- Psychological Testing: If specific issues of psychological health are raised,
it is appropriate to recommend to the court for an assessment and/or counseling
by an agency or individual deemed appropriate by the court.
- Collateral Information: Information from appropriate outside sources, such as
pediatricians, therapists, teachers, school nurses, health care providers,
day-care personnel, child welfare and any other directly relevant outside source
shall be obtained where such information is deemed necessary and relevant to the
issues at hand. Prior to gathering information from these outside sources, a
consent form must be signed by the parents if the information sought is directly
concerning them. Consent is not necessary if the information sought is directly
concerning the child.
- Interviewing Family and Friends: Interviewing of family and/or friends shall
be handled with great care, given its potential for increasing divisiveness and
resulting in harm to the children. It is possible however, that family, friends,
and neighbors may be able to present valuable information and/or leads to the
advocate. The use of such information shall be related to the circumstances of a
particular assessment, used only when the advocate is convinced of its
usefulness, and obtained in a manner that discourages conflict. The advocate
must maintain the confidentiality of the case and should not disclose
information to interviewees.
- Home Visits: When home visits are made, they shall be made in similar ways to
each parent’s or potential caretaker’s home. Care shall be exercised so that
temporary inequality in housing conditions does not lead to bias on the part of
the advocate. Economic circumstances alone shall not be a determining factor in
a custody assessment.
- Geographic Barriers: In those cases in which the parents or caretakers reside
in geographically separate jurisdictions, it may be difficult for the advocate
to visit with both parents in similar settings. The advocate shall not suppose
or make assumptions as to what a home visit would have elicited.
Areas of Assessment:
- Age and Development of Child: The child’s age and developmental level is
relevant to custody and visitation in that it directly impacts a child’s ability
to handle stress and change. Is the child growing developmentally? Advocates use
the information provided in their training on developmental impacts of divorce
on children as their guide.
- Parent/Caregiver-Child Relationship: Do the child and parent/caregiver
demonstrate a bond? What is the interaction between parent/caregiver and child?
Has there been a period of no contact that has adversely affected the
relationship? Who has been the primary caretaker? Who does the child feel most
- Sibling Relationships (to include half-siblings and step-siblings): What are
the ages and developmental level of siblings? Does the child currently reside
with siblings? Is there a bond between the siblings? Are there any issues within
sibling relationships? Would a change in primary custody result in a strain in
or loss of sibling relationships?
- Past History of Custody/Visitation: What has the custody and visitation
(access) looked like in the past? Has there been supervised visitation? Why?
- Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse: Does the parent use drugs? Does the parent abuse
- Mental and Physical Health of the Parent: Is the parent in reasonably good
physical and mental health? Are there issues that may inhibit their ability to
care for the child? Are they addressing the issues?
- Ability and Willingness to Parent: Is the parent able to nurture, provide
guidance, stability and consistency. Is the parent capable of nurturing the
child? Is the parent willing to nurture the child? Does the parent have the
skills to nurture and guide the child? Does the parent provide consistency for
the child? Can the parent provide the tools to the child for growth and
- Child’s Educational Needs: Does the parent address what the child needs to
succeed in school? Is the parent an active part of the child’s education? Does
the parent attend school conferences and activities?
- Consistency of Custody and Visitation: Has there been a period of no contact?
Why? Does the parent need help to build the relationship again? Has the parent
honored the scheduled dates and times of visitation?
- Parenting Style & Discipline Style: Does the parent act appropriately with the
child? Does the parent discipline appropriately? Will the parent attend classes
to learn more about how to become a better parent? Does the parent communicate
and cooperate with the other parent concerning parenting and discipline styles
to ensure consistency?
- Parent & Child’s Support System: Does the parent have healthy relationships
with other adults? Are there people in his/her life that can be counted on in an
emergency? Does the child need/have a counselor, other adult to turn to? Are
there siblings that the child can rely on?
- Child Behavior & Adjustment to Change: Is the child acting out, pulling in, or
a combination of the two? What are the causes and do the parents recognize and
address these issues? How is the child adjusting to change? What would be the
impact of a change in custody?
- Family Permanence: Does one parent move frequently? Are there individuals in
and out of the child’s life? Does either parent have multiple partners? Has the
child attended multiple schools?
- Pattern of Domestic Violence and/or Child Abuse? Has there been domestic
violence or child abuse? What impact has this had on the child? Was the child
abused or is he/she being abused? How has this been addressed? All CASA, Child
Custody Advocates are mandated reporters and are obligated to report any
suspected occurrence of abuse and/or neglect to the PA ChildLine child abuse
- Encouragement of Other Parent’s Relationship with Child: Does each parent
encourage the child to have a relationship with the other parent or discourage
the child? Do the parents respect the other’s role in the child’s life?
- Ethnicity, Culture and Religion: Are there any issues related to ethnicity,
culture or religion that are not being addressed?
- Ability to Communicate with the Other Parent: Can the parents talk to each
other? Do they send notes or messages with the children? Can they be present
together at conferences, meetings, activities, family events, etc. without
turmoil for the child?
- Conflict Resolution Techniques: How does the parent handle conflict?
- Parents’ Work Schedules and Finances: Are there issues with work schedules
that interfere with ability to care for the child? Can the parent afford to
provide the child with food, shelter, and clothing?
- Child Care: What arrangements have been made for child care? Who will pay for
child care? Can the other parent provide care if one has to be away from the
- Transportation: Who will be responsible for transportation and when? Is a
third party necessary?
The Assessment Report:
The assessment report shall be written in a style free of jargon so that the
court, attorneys, and the clients can understand it. It shall convey an attitude
of respect for all parties. The report shall be written following the format
provided. [See attached].
Distribution: The signed report shall be submitted to all parties no later than
seven (7) days prior to the next court appearance. Attorneys may not distribute
the report to parents. A parent without attorney representation will receive a
copy of the report. At no time shall children be in possession of the report.
CASA is not responsible for the distribution of information in a submitted
report by a party to the case to a third party.
Recommendations: Advocates will make every effort to include all parties
involved in the custody dispute in the assessment process. Advocates shall not
make statements of fact or inferences about parties they have not interviewed.
Advocates may at times, be unable to see all parties in a dispute, either
because of refusal of a party to meet or logistical factors. In these cases, the
Advocate will limit his/her conclusions. The Advocate will report on those
individuals who have been seen and on their interactions with each other and may
draw conclusions regarding the nature of those relationships.
The Program Director and/or Case Manager will accompany the Advocate to any
court hearing in which the CCAP Volunteer is required to testify. The Advocate
understands that he/she may be called upon to testify to information contained
in the CCAP Report to the Court report.