January 28, 2022
Celebrating 40 years of impact – a message from the CEO
SEATTLE, Washington – We’ve welcomed 2022 with great anticipation at the National Court Appointed Special Advocate/ Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Association for Children. This year, we celebrate 40 years of impact through best-interest advocacy for children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect. Over the course of four decades, our network of state and local programs has grown ten-fold, ensuring that today more than 240,000 children have a CASA or GAL volunteer advocate in their corner as they navigate dependency court and the child welfare system.
Like many big ideas, however, the CASA/GAL movement started with an individual and his desire to solve a real-world problem. Inspiration came to Seattle juvenile court judge David W. Soukup in 1976, when he had insufficient information to make a life-changing decision for a 3-year-old girl who had suffered from child abuse. “I looked around that courtroom and there was really no one there that could only speak up for that child,” he later recalled. “I thought that maybe we can get volunteers who will represent these kids.” He asked his bailiff to invite a handful of community members to bring a brown bag lunch and discuss his idea. When he walked into the lunchroom, there were 50 people gathered.
Since then, close to a million Americans, from all over the country and all walks of life, have answered the call to become impassioned volunteer advocates. Extensively screened, trained and supported, these court appointed special advocates or guardians ad litem establish stable and trusting relationships with children and youth, secure services that strengthen families and gather facts that help judges make informed decisions to achieve permanency for children.
Our program as a model for safeguarding a child’s right to a safe and permanent family has stood the test of time for 40 years. With unwavering support from both the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention since our early days, we’ve earned a President’s Volunteer Action Award, been authorized in the Victims of Child Abuse Act and later in the Violence Against Women Act. We also succeeded in achieving a Congressional amendment of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to allow the required GAL to be an attorney or CASA volunteer.
We are immensely proud that our focus on improving service quality while expanding the reach of our network has created ever greater impact for children, youth and families in need. Yet it is estimated that 37.4% of all children – and 53% of African American children – experience a child protective services investigation by the age of 18 years. Every 45 seconds a child enters foster care. The average child in foster care will have multiple foster homes, schools, social workers and teachers rotate through their life, even while dealing with the trauma of abuse or neglect.
So, yes, we can, and we will celebrate 40 years of our impact. We will recognize and honor you, the volunteers, supporters and partners, whose passion and compassion has built us a strong foundation and is the heart and soul of our work. But we will also grapple with the stark reality faced today by children and youth in – and aging out – of the child welfare system. We’ll do so in a particularly intensive way this year as we chart a new strategy to guide National CASA/GAL and our network of state and local programs until 2030. We will be asking ourselves not only how we can serve every child in need of our advocacy, but also how we can help prevent the need for foster care by strengthening families so that they can stay together?
Tara Lisa Perry
CEO, National CASA/GAL Association for Children