CASA: A Guide to Program Development

Section 1 - Planning a Quality Program (Chapters 1- 9)
Section II - Volunteers (Chapters 10- 12)
Section III - Managing the Program (Chapters - 13-15)

Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15


Overview of CASA
What Is CASA?
Conditions That Led to CASA
The Search for Solutions
CASA Offers a Solution
Growth of the CASA Idea
Who Supports CASA?
The National CASA Association

Developing a CASA program is a significant undertaking that requires the cooperation and commitment of many people. It also requires a great deal of research, planning, organizing, and plain hard work. 
This manual is designed to help you through the initial steps and to assist you in the early phases of program operation. The material is based on the collective experience of over 900 local CASA organizations throughout the nation. Although each CASA program is truly a grassroots organization that must tailor its design to the unique needs and interests of the community it serves, all CASA programs do share common problems and challenges, particularly during their first few years of operation. This handbook offers the wisdom of those who have launched new programs. It is intended to be a general guide to program development, not a rigid program design. 

As you begin your planning and development process, there are several resources available to assist you. Most states have a state CASA organization that can provide guidance and support, steer you to potential funding sources, and connect you to other programs in your state. Most state organizations have a director or designated representative who facilitates communication between the programs within the state, and acts as a liaison between the state and the National CASA Association. If a CASA network exists in your state, we highly recommend becoming involved with it. We also encourage you to seek out others in the CASA network. It is a network comprised of bright, dynamic volunteers and 
professional staff who are committed to the growth and concept of CASA. Equally important is creating a strong relationship with the National CASA Association (NCASAA). National CASA was established to promote, assist, and support the development and growth of quality CASA programs. The Association provides training and technical assistance; an annual national conference for volunteers, staff, and board members; a quarterly newsletter, ?The Connection?; grants for new and established CASA programs; and resource materials. Information kits, promotional items, and public service announcements are also available to programs, courts and community volunteers to increase public awareness of the CASA concept. The staff at National CASA is another resource. We are here for guidance, support and are willing to answer any questions. 


Overview of CASA

What Is CASA?

Each year in this country, more than 500,000 children are placed in some form of foster care and thrust into the court system. They have committed no crime, but are simply child victims who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. It is then up to a judge to decide their futures. The judge must consider the following: Did the conditions at home warrant removal? Is the home now safe enough to allow the child?s return or should that child be permanently placed in another home?

In the past, judges have often had to base these decisions on incomplete information. Overburdened child welfare workers and attorneys have not had the time or resources to thoroughly monitor compliance with court orders or to find out firsthand what was really best for each individual child. As reports of abuse and neglect keep crowding court dockets, more and more children have become "lost" in the confusing maze of the foster care system.

Today, more than 50,000 people are speaking up for these children as volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Guardians ad Litem (GAL). CASA volunteers are laypeople who are assigned by a judge to represent the best interests of children whose cases are before the dependency court. CASA/GAL volunteers serve as the eyes and ears of the judge, gathering relevant information about the child and the family. They interview anyone who might have information about the case - parents, foster parents, relatives, teachers, doctors and the child himself. The focus of this investigation is to identify the child(ren)'s needs, not to gather evidence for criminal prosecution. The volunteers then make recommendations to the judge regarding what, in their judgment, is in the child's best interest.

CASA/GAL volunteers currently advocate for children in over 900 program sites in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is estimated that they spoke up for the best interests of approximately 229,090 children in 2000. Though an impressive statistic, that is still only about a third of the abused and neglected children in the court system who need CASA volunteers.

The benefits of citizen volunteers in the court extend far beyond the courtroom to the community at large. CASA volunteers are speaking out for improved services for children. As they do so, they are also raising the public?s awareness of the problems of abused children.


Conditions that led to CASA

Over the past 50 years, attitudes toward abused and neglected children have changed dramatically in the United States. In the first half of the century, neglected and abandoned children were most commonly placed in institutional settings such as orphanages and asylums. Abuse was considered a family matter, 
and children were rarely removed from their homes for physical harm inflicted by their parents. It wasn?t until the early 1960s that child advocates succeeded in raising the awareness of the public and the courts, and child abuse was recognized as a serious problem and a crime. During this period there was also growing recognition of the importance of a child?s attachment to caregivers. Judges began placing children in families instead of in institutions, giving birth to the modern system of foster care.

By the 1970s, however, foster care had become permanent for many children. It was not uncommon for children to be placed in a series of foster homes with no efforts made to reunite them with their parents or to find other permanent families. For many children, becoming a part of the foster care system meant the loss of a family for the remainder of their childhood.


The Search for Solutions

In the 1970s, national attention focused on child abuse and neglect, leading Congress to pass two laws that were instrumental in restructuring child welfare services in this country. These laws also laid the groundwork for the development of CASA programs.The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-247), was one of the first legislative measures to address the importance of representation for children in juvenile or family court proceedings. In order to receive certain federal funds, the act requires the states to provide a guardian ad litem for children who are the subject of judicial proceedings as a result of allegations of abuse or neglect. The guardian ad litem (guardian "for the proceedings") or GAL, is defined as a:

"Person appointed by the Court to promote and protect the interests of a child involved in a judicial proceeding, through assuring representation of those interests in the courts and throughout the social service and ancillary service systems."

Though some states had implemented guardian ad litem legislation prior to the passage of the federal law, most passed legislation requiring the appointment of a guardian ad litem for the child as a direct result of P.L. 93-247. However, despite the legal mandate to do so, a 1990 national study funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that only 50% of the states were actually appointing guardians ad litem for every abused and neglected child in the system. The law simply was not being followed and the federal government did not have a system for monitoring compliance. When guardians ad litem were appointed, the study also found they were usually attorneys who had little time or training in matters pertaining to children.

Although P.L. 93-247 did much to improve a child's position in court, there were still many children being placed in foster care unnecessarily and many others who were remaining in foster care placements longer than necessary. To remedy the heavy and extended reliance on foster care, child welfare professionals and advocates launched a movement known as permanency planning. Permanency planning requires that agencies provide services to preserve a child?s family, expeditious reunification of the child with his or her parents if removal is necessary and alternative permanent placement for the child when reunification is not possible.Permanency planning efforts emerged out of the recognition that a safe and permanent home is essential for the healthy development of a child. Research indicates that the lack of such an environment is a contributing factor to juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy and social and/or emotional problems that often linger into adulthood.

In 1980, Congress passed P.L. 96-272, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. This legislation was designed to encourage permanency planning in state child welfare systems by requiring that states, in order to be eligible for federal child welfare funds, show evidence that "reasonable efforts" are made to 
keep a family together before a child is removed from the home.

This Act established a number of requirements of social services agencies designed to prevent a child from remaining in limbo. They included:

  • Goal-oriented case planning;
  • Time lines for parents to complete the service plan;
  • Regular court reviews of the case plan; and
  • Reasonable efforts to reunify families if a child can remain safe.


CASA Offers a Solution

The growing awareness of children's rights and subsequent changes in the law produced an environment of change in child welfare in which creative solutions to problems could be developed.

One such innovative program emerged in 1977 in Seattle, Washington, when King County Superior Court Judge David W. Soukup saw a recurring problem in his courtroom. He felt strongly that he was not getting all the facts needed to make well-informed decisions affecting the future of the children whose cases came before him. Such decisions included where the child would live, for how long, and under what conditions; what services and treatment should be ordered; and/or what steps should be taken to reunite the child with the birth parents or to place the child in a new family unit.

While attorney guardians ad litem were being appointed to abuse and neglect cases in Seattle, they generally lacked the time and the specialized training to conduct the in-depth investigation required in these cases. Social workers, responsible for many cases, had too little time to devote to each child. In court, there were attorneys to represent the interests of the parents and the state. Yet the child, whose future hinged on the outcome, was without a voice.

Judge Soukup believed that someone other than an attorney might be trained to speak effectively for children. He wondered if it might be feasible to recruit and train qualified individuals to step into the courtroom to advocate for children. In 1977, Judge Soukup?s idea became reality when volunteers began representing the best interests of children as their appointed guardians ad litem. They later came to be known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

In a short time, the judge?s daring experiment proved to be an enormous success. Lay volunteers entered the court proceedings with enthusiasm, dedication, and professionalism. With proper training, they proved to be effective advocates for abused and neglected children. They conducted thorough investigations of each child's individual situation, made recommendations which reflected the best interests of the child, and monitored the case plan to ensure that the court's order was carried out in a timely manner.

CASA volunteers provided a fresh perspective to the juvenile court, one that questioned how families and children were being treated and what services were available to help them. Their presence on cases helped to ensure that children who were abused or neglected did not receive further abuse at the hands of an overburdened child welfare system.

In October of 1996, The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was amended to include CASA volunteers as one of the court?s options for guardian ad litem appointment:

"?in every case involving an abused and neglected child which results in a judicial proceeding, a guardian ad litem, who may be an attorney or a court appointed special advocate (or both), shall be appointed to represent the child?"

This legislative amendment serves as an acknowledgment by political leaders of CASA's strong reputation as a quality method of child advocacy.


Growth of the CASA Idea

The CASA concept soon received the attention of the Children in Placement Committee of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). In October 1977, that body voted to endorse the volunteer CASA program as a model for safeguarding a child's rights to a safe and permanent family.

In 1978, the National Center of State Courts selected the Seattle program as the "best National example of citizen participation in the juvenile justice system." This recognition, along with a grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (one of CASA's earliest and strongest supporters), made it possible for courts in other communities to develop programs based on the CASA concept.

Other early supporters who were instrumental in the growth of CASA were the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the International Association of Junior Leagues.

As communities adopted the CASA concept, new programs were established under a variety of names -- Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), ProKids, FOCAS, Child Advocates, Inc., and Voices for Children, Inc., to name a few.


Who Supports CASA?

The CASA/GAL concept has been widely accepted by judges, child advocates and policy makers since the Seattle program began in 1977. It has affected hundreds of courts and thousands of children and has been supported by a number of professional and government organizations, including the following:

  • National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) 
  • U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) 
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children and Families 
  • The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation 
  • National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) 
  • National Federation of Women's Clubs 
  • Kappa Alpha Theta Women?s Fraternity 
  • Points of Light Foundation 
  • American Association of Retired Persons 
  • International Association of Junior Leagues 
  • The American Bar Association 
  • The National Bar Association 

Through its Permanency Planning Project, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) has promoted CASA and helped to educate judges about the potential value of using volunteers in their courts. The support of NCJFCJ has helped to build CASA?s credibility in legal, social service, and child welfare circles.

In 1988, CSR, Inc., under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published the results of a study entitled National Evaluation of Guardians Ad Litem in Child Abuse or Neglect Judicial Proceedings. After analyzing five types of GAL models the study found that:

"CASA volunteers are excellent investigators and mediators, remain involved in the case and fight for what they think is best for the child." The study concluded, "We give the CASA models our highest recommendation."

In August 1989, the American Bar Association, the country's largest professional organization of attorneys, voted to officially endorse the use of CASA volunteers to work with attorneys to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in juvenile court. Their resolution reads:

"Be it resolved that the American Bar Association endorses the concept of utilizing carefully selected, well-trained lay volunteers - Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) - in addition to providing attorney representation, in dependency proceedings to assist the court in determining what is in the best interests of abused and neglected children. Be it further resolved that the American Bar Association encourages its members to support the development of CASA programs in their communities."

Also in 1989, the Kappa Alpha Theta women's fraternity selected CASA as its national philanthropy. As a result, chapters and alumni groups across the country have assisted local CASA programs and state organizations in many ways.


The National CASA Association

By 1982, it was clear that a national association was needed to provide networking opportunities and a unified image for CASA's emerging national presence. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (?National CASA? or ?the Association?) was formed that year.

Funding for the Association is provided through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the U.S. Department of Justice, corporations, individuals, and membership dues. This financial support allows the National CASA Association to promote the concept and growth of volunteer child advocates through ongoing services including training, technical assistance, resource development, continuing education and public awareness initiatives. The association has developed national Standards for CASA Programs and provides a national training curriculum.

The Association also hosts an annual national conference where volunteers, staff and others from throughout the child welfare and juvenile justice systems meet to exchange ideas and hear leaders in the field speak on various issues. National CASA also produces a quarterly newsletter, The Connection, to keep program staff and volunteers updated on the latest news from the child advocacy network. 

National CASA produces Feedback, a bulletin of current news and important program information and conducts an annual program survey that provides valuable information about the organization of CASA programs, their services, and their needs.

In addition, the Association offers many services tailored to the new and/or growing program. It provides technical assistance both on-site and via telephone and internet communications, thereby assisting staff in programs across the country to share information and solve problems. It also provides public service announcements, brochures for the public and professionals, and a number of instructive guides on substantive topics such as program development, volunteer management, fund-raising and public relations.

National CASA Association Recognition and Awards

The President's Volunteer Action Award.

American Federation of Junior Women's Club President's Award of Merit.

Kiwanis International selects CASA as a Major Emphasis Program.

American Bar Association endorses CASA.

Kappa Alpha Theta Foundation adopts CASA as national philanthropy.

U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect includes utilization of CASAs and volunteer GALs among critical first steps it recommends to bring the "national emergency" of child abuse and neglect in America under control.

U.S. Congress authorizes expansion of CASA with passage of "Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990" (P.L. 101-647), so that "a court appointed special advocate shall be available to every victim of child abuse or neglect in the United States that needs such an advocate."

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges names CASA "Outstanding Volunteer Program" in America's juvenile and family courts.

American Society of Association Executives Award of Excellence.

President and founder David W. Soukup meets with President George Bush in Oval Office during National Volunteer Week.

Child Advocate of the Year, Sharon Lawrence, designated a "Point of Light."

Foundation for Improvement of Justice Award.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, names CASA an "Exemplary National Program in Juvenile Delinquency Prevention."

David W. Soukup receives Caring Institute Award.

Prevention for a Safer Society Award by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Section 1 - Planning a Quality Program (Chapters 1- 9)
Section II - Volunteers (Chapters 10- 12)
Section III - Managing the Program (Chapters - 13-15)

Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15


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