The National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Association for Children, together with its state and local member programs, supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy so that every child who has experience abuse or neglect can be safe, have a permanent home and have the opportunity to thrive. The National CASA/GAL Association supports our network of 950 state organizations and local programs, in 49 states and the District of Columbia, through training and technical assistance. The role of local CASA/GAL programs is to recruit, train and support volunteers in providing best interest advocacy to children who have experienced abuse and neglect.
Appointed and empowered directly by the courts, CASA/GAL volunteers advocate for a child’s best interest by providing critical information to judges about the child’s needs and well-being to help the judge make the most well-informed decision. The CASA/GAL model was created 40 years ago and CASA/GAL programs have established themselves and their volunteers as trusted partners with the courts and child welfare professionals. State statutes (and local court rules) specify when the court must or may appoint a best interest advocate to speak for a child who is involved in an abuse and neglect proceeding and whom the court may appoint. In 2020, more than 93,000 CASA/GAL volunteers advocated for the best interests of more than 242,000 children.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA) Appropriation
Congress recognized the value of the CASA/GAL model by authorizing funding for the “CASA Program” under the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990. Today, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee continues to include an appropriation for the CASA Program, now authorized through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) administers the CASA Program funding through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). VAWA now includes an authorization for the CASA Program at $12 million. Congress funded the program at $12.5 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, up from $12 million in FY 2018, 2019, and 2020. While Congress twice funded the CASA Program at $15 million, it generally has left funding at $12 million, or less, despite the increased need for services for child victims of abuse and neglect.
Federal funds are critical to strengthening the capacity of CASA/GAL programs throughout the country to meet the needs of child victims currently being served and those who still await a caring, consistent adult to speak for their best interests in the courtroom and in the community. The COVID-19 pandemic placed further strains on child welfare systems already struggling to support the needs of children and families. More than 440,000 children are in foster care on any given day. The average child in foster care spends more than a year in care. CASA Program funds through DOJ support effective advocacy for child victims of abuse or neglect, through national standard setting, assessment, accountability, and evaluation of 950 local, state, and tribal programs. Federal support at the fully authorized level is instrumental to bringing advocacy training and best practice tools into multiple and new emerging issue areas including child sex trafficking, substance abuse and opioid-overuse, and the overmedication of child victims. Technical assistance is made possible to the network on a full range of topics including governance, program management, volunteer management, and evaluation and performance measurement.
In FY2022, Congress should support the CASA Program at the level of $14 million as proposed in the budgets of both houses of Congress and the White House.
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