Origins of CASA
In 1976, a Superior Court judge in Seattle heard a case that made him frustrated. A three-year-old girl appeared to have been abused, but her mother maintained she had fallen out of a swing, and the mother's boyfriend was not around. "Do I take this child out of the only home she's ever known, or do I pick up the paper in three weeks to read that the boyfriend killed the child?" asked the judge. He needed more information.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program was initiated in Seattle,Washington in 1977 by the Honorable David Soukup.
In Judge Soukup's words, "In criminal and civil cases, even though there were always many different points of view, you walked out of the courthouse at the end of the day and you said, I've done my best; I can live with this decision," he explains.
"But when you're involved with a child and you're trying to decide what to do to facilitate that child's growth into a mature and happy adult, you don't feel like you have sufficient information to allow you to make the right decision. You can't walk away and leave them at the courthouse at 4 o'clock. You wonder, do I really know everything I should? Have I really been told all of the different things? Is this really right?"
Speaking for the Children
In his effort to become more informed in his decisions about the future of these children, Judge Soukup conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak for the best interests of these children in court. The program proved so successful that soon judges across the country adopted the program to use citizen advocates.
The U.S. Congress supported the expansion of CASA in 1990 when they passed the Victims of Child Abuse Act. According to the National CASA records, more than1,018 CASA programs are in operation today helping children in 50 states, with68,000 women and men serving as CASA volunteers.
About Indiana CASA
The statewide statistics in Indiana are equally powerful. In 2017, 4,273 trained, dedicated and active Indiana CASA volunteers contributed an estimated 338,514 hours of time advocating for over 30,000 children in Indiana courts.
Indiana law requires the appointment of either a guardian ad litem (GAL) or a trained court appointed special advocate (CASA) in all Child in Need of Services, or “CHINS” cases, which are abuse and neglect cases. In Indiana, the GAL or CASA volunteers are fully empowered to advocate for the children; they have full–party status in child welfare cases, which means they have the right to attend hearings, present information to the court, obtain relevant records, and make recommendations and requests to the court on behalf of the child.
The Indiana Child Advocates Network has grown substantially since it was created in 1989 when the General Assembly established an office of Guardian Ad Litem and Court Appointed Special Advocate (GAL/CASA) services to be administered through the Indiana Supreme Court, Division of State Court Administration. To date, there are certified GAL/CASA volunteer programs in 84 of Indiana’s 92 counties.