The power of community is exponentially important in times of crisis. The more individuals that band together, the more opportunity there is to truly effect change. Q5id Guardian understands the importance of unified communities to create change which is why we’re proud to support The National CASA/GAL Association for Children.
The History Behind the CASA/GAL Mission
It all began with one judge, a three-year-old girl, and inadequate advocacy and representation.
In 1976, the presiding Judge of King County Superior Court in Seattle, WA, David Soukup, was faced with a challenging case. Judge Soukup had to determine whether a three-year-old girl, who was most likely the victim of child abuse, should be returned to her mother or placed in foster care.
In that moment, Judge Soukup said, “I looked around the courtroom and there was really no one there who could really only speak up for that child. It terrified me to make decisions about kids when I didn’t have anybody there that was only advocating for the child.” There needed to be a better solution for child advocacy in the courtroom.
Judge Soukup asked his bailiff to call six or seven citizens from the community to join him in his courtroom so he could explain his ideas and concerns on the matter. Over 50 people attended, and the movement to safeguard children’s rights, especially in the courtroom, was born. In 1977, the first local CASA/GAL program was established in Seattle, WA, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges endorsed the program.
One year later, Judge John F. Mendoza of Nevada created the term ‘court-appointed special advocate’ or CASA volunteer to identify these best-interest advocates. In 1982, the National CASA Association was formed and held their first annual conference in Nevada. Only five years later, there were 271 local programs across 44 states. And in 1996, the language of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requiring that any state applying for funding under this act was required to include an attorney Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for children in any dependency case was amended. The pool of individuals who could serve as guardians ad litem was extended from attorneys to include volunteer court-appointed special advocates.
Now, over 40 years later, nearly 100,000 CASA/GAL volunteers successfully serve almost one quarter of a million children annually through more than 900 state and local CASA/GAL organizations across 49 states and the District of Columbia.
What is The National CASA/GAL Association?
The National Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Association for Children is a nonprofit organization that supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy for children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect.
The National CASA/GAL Association strives to create “a world where every child who has experienced abuse or neglect is given the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving home.” To achieve their vision
CASA/GAL volunteers focus on best-interest advocacy. This is based on the idea that, when deemed safe enough, children thrive best with their family of origin.
Each CASA/GAL volunteer undergoes at least 30 hours of training before they can work directly with a child. They will stay involved with each child until they are safe, in a permanent home, and their case is closed. Volunteers not only complete 12 hours of additional continued education annually but are also provided ongoing support. CASA/GAL programs across the country train over 24,000 new volunteers each year.
Making An Impact
According to the CDC’s child abuse statistics, in the United States, about one in seven children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year. Child abuse or neglect can lead to physical injury and long-term trauma, including psychological and emotional problems.
Trauma can impact brain development, educational achievement, and employment but most significantly develops intense fear, helplessness, and the inability to trust others. CASA/GAL volunteers are trained to recognize and help guide children through dealing with the impact of trauma. To help the court make the most informed decision possible, CASA/GAL volunteers gather information through one-on-one time spent with the children and significant people in their lives.
Research shows that “having a stable relationship with a supportive adult can help children do well, even when they have faced significant hardships.” A designated CASA/GAL advocate provides that stability, helping a child feel supported and encouraged.
CASA/GAL volunteers not only advocate for a child in court when dealing with trauma from abuse and neglect, but they actively assist children to heal and build resilience through their consistent presence and indefatigable efforts to ensure each child is connected to the services they need. These needs range from having secure, considerate caregivers and foster homes for infants/young children, to enabling academic success by helping set and achieve goals and preparing older youth for long-term sustainability.
A Family-Origin Resolution
The ultimate goal is for a child to remain with their family of origin whenever safely possible. CASA/GAL volunteers will work with the child, their families and service providers to help create a positive, safe home environment. If a child is removed from their home, the goal is for them to return and if that is not a safe solution, then the goal is to place the child in a safe home environment with extended family members. When immediate family is not the best option, CASA/GAL volunteers and court officials will work to achieve an alternative option for a secure, stable, permanent home.
How Can You Get Involved
Become a CASA/GAL Volunteer
You have the power to make a difference in a child’s life. As a CASA/GAL volunteer, you can help a child who has experienced abuse or neglect find a safe, permanent home and have the opportunity to thrive. Learn more about being a volunteer.
Take action in support of The National CASA/GAL Association for Children by telling Congress there needs to be continuous effort to prioritize children.
Help spread awareness about child abuse and neglect. It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect and what you should do if you suspect this is happening to a child. The more individuals who are aware of the effects that abuse and neglect can have on a child, the more proactive we can be as a community.
Learn more about The National CASA/GAL Association for Children at nationalcasagal.org.