A National Perspective
In 1974, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). One provision of this act required the assignment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) for each abused and neglected child subject to juvenile court proceedings. Although the original Act was not specific as to the qualifications, responsibilities, or training of the GAL, more recent amendments call for either an attorney or a Court Appointed Special Advocate to serve in this role and outline basic responsibilities for the GAL in representing the interests of these children.
Early response to CAPTA led many jurisdictions to appoint attorneys as GALs. However, within a few years, Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, Washington saw a recurring problem in his courtroom. He found that he was not receiving the complete and meaningful information he needed to decide cases involving abused, neglected, and dependent children. He began to appoint trained citizen volunteers as guardians ad litem to gather this information and to represent the best interests of children in court proceedings. He believed that the opinion of a concerned member of the community was a valuable resource when decisions about a child had to be made by the Court. The Judge recognized that the rights and interests of a child can be overlooked all too easily during legal proceedings when the social service agencies and parents are at odds and struggling over what they consider to be the child's best interest. This first use of volunteers to represent the interests of abused and neglected children in Court was the beginning of the CASA concept.
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs have been established throughout the United States. The programs are supported by the National CASA Association. The Association provides information, training, technical assistance, and advocacy for legislation which impacts local programs. Standards for programs, technical assistance manuals, and a comprehensive Training Curriculum have been established through NCASAA. The work of the Association is supported by such organizations as the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, Kappa Alpha Theta Foundation, and Kiwanis International. CASA has been named by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice as an "Exemplary National Program in Juvenile Delinquency Prevention".
CASA in Delaware
The Delaware Family Court CASA Program began in New Castle County in 1981. By 1983, it had expanded statewide. This statewide program has maintained support from the Family Court judiciary and from community agencies. Soon after its inception, the Task Force on Permanency Planning for Children residing in Foster Care identified the CASA Program as one of the two most effective programs in Delaware for promoting permanency planning for children, and the General Assembly unanimously passed legislation providing a statutory base for the program. The Delaware CASA program has received the Delaware State Bar Association's prestigious Liberty Bell Award as well as two awards of excellence from the National CASA Association, and a Governor's Award for Outstanding Volunteer Programs. A research project conducted by the Delaware program provided the building blocks for national program standards. Expansion of the CASA Program has been recommended by the Attorney General's Task Force on Child Victims and by the Court Improvement Project of the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware. In 2017, Delaware's CASA program moved to the Office of the Child Advocate.
The CASA Program operates in each of the three counties in Delaware and is administered by the Office of the Child Advocate. The Delaware CASA Program is a member in good standing of the National CASA Association and operates in accordance with established national standards and state law. It is the goal of CASA to provide representation for all abused and neglected children who come before the Court.
In order to effectively recruit, train, support, and retain CASA volunteers, the Friends of CASA Association, Inc., a private non-profit, has been established in Delaware. The Friends of CASA Association provides private funding to support the efforts of the CASA Program and the CASA volunteers in their most important and urgent work throughout the state of Delaware. The New Castle Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors is a major contributor to the CASA effort through its annual sponsorship of a Golf Outing and Silent Auction.
The CASA volunteers in Sussex County have established a Sussex Friends of CASA that have received support from the Carl M. Freeman Foundation. This group specifically supports the important work of CASA in Sussex County.
The CASA program is authorized by Title 29, Chapter 90A of the Delaware Code.