The National Scene

Concerned about the staggering numbers of children in foster care, in 1974 the U.S. Congress enacted The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which provided financial assistance to states for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. The legislation included a requirement that there be a mandatory appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to represent the abused and neglected child’s best interest. The law did not specify that the GAL had to be an attorney, though attorneys were usually appointed.

In 1976, Judge David Soukup, then presiding Judge of King County Superior Court in Seattle, Washington, began to look for alternative ways to make sure the child’s best interests would be consistently presented to the court. Few court-appointed attorneys had the time or the training to conduct the thorough investigation needed to provide the juvenile court with necessary information to make sound decisions for these child-victims and their futures.

Judge Soukup decided to use trained community volunteers who would be asked to make a commitment for the life of a child’s case in the juvenile justice system. Because some statutes require the Guardian ad Litem to be an attorney (not so in Ohio), the term CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) was chosen to denote volunteers from the local community who had been trained by the court to serve as advocates for abused and neglected children whose families were involved in court proceedings. Judge Soukup’s idea became a full-fledged program in 1977 and word of its success spread quickly. Encouraged by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, new CASA programs began to develop nationwide.

In 1982, the National CASA Association, Inc. was established to serve as an umbrella organization for the growing number of programs in the country. National CASA provides information, technical assistance, research, and training to its members. It also host an annual national conference. Membership in National CASA is open to programs and individuals.

Currently there are nearly 1000 CASA/GAL programs in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, and new programs open their doors at the rate of four per month. Last year some 75,000 CASA volunteers served more than 240,000 children. Each year, more than 700,000 children experience foster care in this country. Because there are not enough CASA volunteers to represent all of the children in care, judges typically assign CASA volunteers to their most difficult cases.

You can read more about CASA at the National CASA website: http://www.casaforchildren.org/

The Ohio Scene

The Ohio CASA/GAL Association organized in May, 1987 as a result of a conference funded by the Ohio Juvenile Judges Association. The Ohio CASA Association was formed to promote the use of CASA advocates in Ohio, to identify the CASA/Guardian’s ad Litem roles and responsibilities, to set program standards, to serve as an advocate office for children on statewide issues, and to provide networking opportunities for Ohio CASA/GAL programs and interested individuals statewide. 

In January 1988, the Ohio CASA Association addressed the Ohio Legislature on a major piece of Ohio child abuse and neglect legislation, Senate Bill 89. In its final form, S.B. 89 contained some of the specific concerns of the Association. This legislation called for every abused and neglected child to have a GAL per Section 2151.281 (J) (1) of the Ohio Revised Code, and states, “When the court appoints a guardian ad litem pursuant to this section, ti shall appoint a qualified volunteer whenever one is available and the appointment is appropriate.” The Ohio CASA Association and member programs (including Lucas County CASA) worked closely with then Senator Mike Dewine on The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (AFSA) and corresponding Ohio House Bill 484. This important legislation refocused attention on the safety, permanency and well-being of dependent, neglected and abused children caught in the system.

In Ohio, the judges in each of Ohio’s 88 counties decide who will provide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) services in their courts. Currently, there are counties that use attorneys as GALs with no volunteer component, others use a combination of attorney and volunteers, and still others, like Lucas County, follow the National CASA model of trained volunteers serving as the Guardian ad Litem.

The Ohio CASA/GAL Association is a network of CASA/GAL programs and volunteers statewide. The Association, incorporated in June, 1994, provides technical assistance and support to both existing and developing CASA/GAL programs. The Association serves as a conduit for information regarding CASA/GAL issues and legislation, as an advocate and resource enter for programs and for the CASA/GAL concept in Ohio. The Association develops and monitors standards for the training and work of CASA/GAL volunteers throughout the state. In addition to regular communication with Ohio policy makers, the Association publishes a quarterly newsletter regarding issues pertinent to child welfare, the legal system, volunteerism, and CASA programs.

Membership in the Association is open to all Ohio CASA/GAL programs, their volunteers and Board members, and any other interested parties. The office is located in Columbus, Ohio and operations are overseen by an executive director and staff, and a board of directors who meet quarterly. The state Association hosts an annual convention. Currently 37 of Ohio’s 88 counties have CASA/GAL programs.

You can read more about Ohio CASA volunteers and events at the Ohio CASA website: http://www.ohiocasa.org/

The Local Scene

The Lucas County Juvenile Court CASA/GAL department was implemented by then Judge Andy Devine with the assistance of the Junior League of Toledo. When it commenced in November, 1980, it was the third CASA program established in the nation. Initially, the program model was that of a CASA volunteer teamed with an attorney who served as Guardian ad Litem for the child.

In 1982, the court determined the CASA should serve as Guardian ad Litem. The GAL, who is a sworn officer of the court, is an advocate for a child-victim for the time the child is enmeshed in the juvenile justice system. The CASA/GAL is appointed to a case shortly after the case enters the system via an Emergency Shelter Care Hearing. The CASA/GAL remains on the case until a permanent plan is implemented for the child. In the case of permanent custody, the CASA/GAL stays on the case until the child’s adoption is finalized.

Lucas County CASA/GAL work is governed by strict standards set by the National and Ohio CASA Associations and embraced by the Lucas County CASA department. The Lucas County CASA department is currently in 100% compliance with Ohio CASA Association standards and is an accredited program by both the National and Ohio CASA Associations.

The Lucas County CASA/GAL department is funded by taxpayers via the Lucas County Commissioners and the Juvenile Court budget. The CASA department established a Board of Trustees and acquired a non-profit corporation (501 (C) (3) status in order to accept funds in the form of honorariums, grants, fees, gifts, bequests and memorials to support the work of the CASA volunteers.

Administrative Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon governs and supports the work of the CASA/GAL Department. CASA is housed in the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center on Spielbusch Avenue in downtown Toledo. In addition to over 200 CASA volunteers, there is a department director, associate director, staff attorney, volunteer coordinator, community relations/training coordinator and a secretarial staff.

More information is available from the Lucas County CASA program by emailing: casainfo@co.lucas.oh.us

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