State & Local Programs

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children: Introduction 

The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children is a uniform law that has been enacted by most jurisdictions in the United States.  Its purpose is to protect children who are placed across state lines for foster care or adoption.  It contains 10 articles that establish procedures to be followed in making interstate placements and assigns responsibilities to those responsible for a child's placement.

This law is the only official means we have to ensure that the child is placed in a safe environment, that the placement is supervised, and that he or she receives the services needed.  The Compact also defines how agencies should work together to achieve the best outcome for the child.  (See the full text of the law contained in the Guide to the Interstate Compact).

Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with the way the Compact is operating in most states.  Because of inadequate resources allocated to these cases and a lack of priority given to them, there are long delays in completing the process, frequently six months or longer.  Some state social services systems do not even accept requests for out of state placements as matter of policy because they do not have adequate staff to oversee these placements.  Additional problems occur because there is confusion on the part of judges as well as social workers about which cases fall under the requirements of the Compact and courts in various states have ruled differently.

Because a long delay in placement can often be damaging to a child, judges have developed a variety of ways to bypass the formal Interstate Compact process by asking CASA/GAL programs to get involved in doing "informal homestudies" or "courtesy visits."  Whatever it is called, judges are more and more often approving out-of-state placements on the basis of a volunteer's observations about the suitability of the proposed placement.

Because under the law as it currently is written, there is no authorized role for a child's guardian ad litem or CASA volunteer, National CASA has long been concerned about the appropriateness of CASA/GAL programs accepting involvement in these cases and the potential liability to the program and to the volunteer that results.  The increasing number of these cases and the numerous requests from programs for policy and/or guidelines on how to handle Interstate Compact cases led to the appointment in the fall of 1994 of an ad hoc task force to study the issue.

Interstate Compact Task Force

The task force was made up of CASA/GAL program staff and a family court judge representing ten states.  All of the members had been involved in Compact cases and all had experienced problems of some kind.  A survey of local and state CASA/GAL programs was conducted to determine how many programs accept involvement in Compact cases; which programs provide training; what problems are frequently encountered; and what recommendations respondents would have to improve the current system.

The task force reviewed the law, the results of the survey of CASA/GAL programs (see charts page), various court decisions, and other materials commenting on or analyzing the law.  They identified two levels of concern upon which to make recommendations to the Board.  First they determined that advocacy on the national level to change the law or improve its implementation is needed and should be explored.  Second, they felt it important that National CASA establish a policy and provide guidelines for programs on how to respond to or make a request for assistance with a case across state lines.

There was recognition that advocacy for changing the law would be a long-term strategy that would be most effective if done in collaboration with other national organizations with concern about the placement of children.  Several organizations were identified and have subsequently been made aware of National CASA's interest in helping to bring about change.  A collaborative relationship has also been developed with the national Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact with a commitment by both organizations that ongoing communication will occur.  These efforts will continue at the national level.  State and local CASA/GAL programs can and should also advocate for change through court improvement projects and other initiatives currently underway.

Should CASA/GAL Volunteers be Involved in Interstate Compact Cases?

There are a number of issues that must by carefully considered by programs before they agree to get involved in these cases.  First, when CASA programs and volunteers form a network to step around the Compact -- no matter how informally -- there is a tremendous liability that the volunteer and the program are assuming needlessly.  A program as well as an individual volunteer can be found negligent if important information is not discovered and reported to the court and a child is injured in that placement.  Program directors need to consider that volunteers are not trained or licensed to conduct homestudies of the depth that professional social workers are.  They are trained to make observations and form objective impressions, but should consult with professionals to evaluate and interpret those observations.  When a volunteer's recommendations are presented in court, the judge should consider them in addition to the recommendations of a social worker and others with knowledge of the child so that his or her decision is not based solely on the volunteer's.

Another important consideration is the fact that volunteers do not have the authority to interview any person involved in a case, gain access to records, or conduct any official inquiries without an order from their local judge.  A judge in any other court district does not have jurisdiction to order a CASA volunteer to do an investigation.  Cases can not be transferred from one court jurisdiction to another.  In many cases, a judge in another state or district can request that the local judge issue an order authorizing a volunteer to make a courtesy visit.  However, such an order does not invalidate the requirements of the Interstate Compact.

Finally, programs should understand that being involved in interstate cases can result in volunteers becoming involved in other court proceedings which may require the volunteer's testimony.  Because interstate cases often involve custody disputes in divorce cases or parental kidnap cases, a volunteer may be required to testify about information acquired or observations made.  In some cases, the volunteer has been required to travel out of state to testify.

Out of concern about these issues and the potential negative consequences to the program and the volunteer, many CASA/GAL programs have established a policy of not accepting requests from out of state under any circumstances.  This is a responsible and prudent course a program can take.  The National CASA Association does not encourage nor endorse programs accepting interstate referrals from the court or other CASA programs.  The Association does encourage programs to offer information and training to their volunteers about the Interstate Compact and strongly supports programs and volunteers taking an aggressive approach in advocating for individual children by employing the strategies presented on the following page.

National CASA recognizes that a large number of programs have chosen to go beyond this level of advocacy.  They believe that CASA can provide a "safety net" to allow children to be placed more quickly than bureaucratic red tape often allows and therefore have chosen to allow volunteers to conduct courtesy home visits and to report their findings to the court.  In many cases, the programs have established policies or protocols that attempt to define a limited role for the volunteer.  If a program is going to accept these assignments, it is strongly encouraged that they establish a policy that is clearly communicated to volunteers and to the court.  The suggested guidelines were developed with the input of many programs.  They seek to establish a framework for consistency within the CASA/GAL network and a common understanding of the kind of communication and information that should flow from one program to another.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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