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The Validation and Effectiveness Study of Legal Representation Through Guardian ad Litem (CSR Study)

Summary of Findings Affecting CASA
August 8, 1994

Roles of Attorneys, GALs, and CASAs Findings: CASAs provide a different style of advocacy and perform many activities that attorneys do not (such as investigation, monitoring, and resource brokering). CASAs tend to avoid the legal aspects of representation, and place greater emphasis on promoting cooperation among the parties. CASAs and attorneys prioritize their time differently, reflecting their areas of training and expertise--attorneys in legal representation and courtroom activities, CASAs in nonlegal and social service activities outside the courtroom.  Recommendations: Clarify the roles of attorneys and CASAs to eliminate confusion. State legislation should specify the GAL's procedural responsibilities

Training, Accountability and Quality Control Findings: Both CASAs and staff attorneys have a system of supervision and control. Staff attorneys probably receive more training than CASAs; private attorneys less. CASA training, however, covers more topics (e.g., identification of services, cultural sensitivity). CASA training puts less emphasis on the child welfare system and courts (7.8%). While it is more than the other two models, only 12.3% of CASAs had received cultural sensitivity training; 12.3% had sexual abuse training; and 8.2% had substance abuse training. Only 2.7% had training in the physical and mental health aspects of child welfare. CASAs generally lacked information about immunity and liability issues. Actions (implied but not specifically recommended by the study): Increase CASA training in child welfare system and courts, cultural sensitivity, physical and mental health aspects of child welfare, cultural sensitivity, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and immunity issues. The study states that training is more important than experience for high-quality representation

Timeliness of Appointment Findings: In half the locations, CASAs were appointed late in the process. Combined with the CASAs' shorter tenure, this meant representation was more likely to be interrupted by the volunteer's departure. Recommendations: Improve the timeliness of CASA appointment.

Caseloads and Time Spent per Case Findings: CASAs have lower caseloads and spend more time per case.

Tenure and Turnover Findings: CASAs have the shortest tenure--only 13.2% had served more than 5 years. This may have been due to the newness of the CASA programs. 90% of CASAs and private attorneys were the original representatives for the child.

Fact-finding Findings: CASAs more often had contact with the child (84.9%), and were much more likely to observe parent/child interactions (63.7%). CASAs were less likely than staff attorneys to consult the child about placement and service needs, but this may have been because staff attorneys represent more older children. CASAs were more likely to have contacted the caseworker (97.3%) and other sources (except the state's attorney). They were more likely to discuss placement options with foster parents. Recommendations: Establish guidelines to prioritize investigation activities and help GALs in general spend their time effectively. The GAL/CASA should talk with or observe the child in every case.

Preparation Findings: CASAs reported the most extensive preparation for cases. This was confirmed by the judges interviewed.

Legal Representation Findings: The study expresses concern about CASAs' low level of courtroom activity. CASAs have less legal experience, and place less emphasis on attending hearings. In contested proceedings where there is a CASA but no lawyer, legal representation will be inadequate. CASAs place greater emphasis than attorneys on preparing written reports for court, and are more likely to recommend a case plan. When they disagreed with caseworkers, CASAs were somewhat less likely than lawyers to resolve all their differences. CASAs were less likely to disagrees with the child, but also less likely to express both the child's and their own views to a court when they did disagree. Recommendations: CASA programs should give more attention to legal representation. GALs should attend all formal and informal proceedings, and there should be a mandate that every child or GAL have access to an attorney. CASAs should not represent children in contested proceedings unless accompanied by a lawyer (the study notes that CASAs were less inclined to represent children in such circumstances). GALs should recommend to the court the most suitable outcome for the child. All case-related disagreements should be expressed, including both the child's and the CASA's views when they disagree. The child's views may be presented by the child's testimony or by the CASA.

Effectiveness of Legal Representation Findings: CASAs rated themselves less forceful in their representation (35.6% said they were very forceful). Judges rated only 27.8% of CASAs as very forceful. The other two models were rated much more effective in legal representation. Recommendations: Strengthen legal representation in the CASA model.

Mediation and Negotiation Findings: CASAs are more often trained to encourage cooperation among parties, but they are less likely to negotiate an agreement. (it is possible, however, that another party initiated negotiations in these instances). Judges did not rate any CASAs ineffective in negotiation, but they rated staff attorneys more highly. 60% of CASAs were rated effective in negotiations Recommendations: All GAL training should emphasize the settlement of issues so that courts have to decide fewer cases.

Monitoring Findings: CASAs were more likely to contact the child after the review hearing; 63% contacted them frequently. More than half the judges reported that CASAs maintained sufficient contact (and 28% of the judges did not know). CASAs were much more likely to have contacted caseworkers; 80% of caseworkers reported this contact. Judges rated CASAs more diligent in following up on case plans and court orders. CASAs spent much more time in monitoring activities; over two thirds spent more than 20% of their time on monitoring. Caseworkers rated CASAs more effective in monitoring (56.3% rated them very effective, 33.3% somewhat effective), as did the judges (76.5% very effective, 23.5% somewhat effective). Recommendations: Monitoring and resource brokering are roles to be addressed in training, policymaking, role definitions in each jurisdiction, and in time allocation by GALS.

Resource Identification Findings: CASAs were more likely to provide information on resources and broker resources. Attorneys were less likely to see this as part of their role, and caseworkers rated CASAs more effective in this role. Recommendations: Give more attention to, and training in, the resource brokering role. Identify in each case whether this role is expected of the GAL.

General Recommendations

Demonstrations should be conducted of partnership arrangements involving GALS, caseworkers, lawyers, and other staff. These "mixed model" experiments could take advantage of the training and advocacy styles of each participant. "The findings suggest that an optimal approach involves the combined resources of attorneys, lay volunteers, and caseworkers to perform the broad range of functions and services contained in the definition of the child advocate."

CASA performance was rated highly by themselves, caseworkers, and judges. CASA training, caseloads, supervision and evaluation could be a model for attorney GAL programs.

A formal national system of GAL training, standards and certification should be established.

Increased funding should be made available to implement the GAL requirements in CAPTA.

Further evaluation is needed which: Is representative of cases, not GAL models; Collects cost information; Examines the age, training, experience, primary professional fields, and motivations of GALS.; Measures the joint and separate contributions of the GAL and caseworker in delivering services; Relates child well-being to placement; Researches the role of the GAL as part of family support and preservation efforts.

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