Q: What is a Court Appointed Special advocate/Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL)?
A CASA/GAL is a trained community volunteer who is appointed by the judge to serve as guardian ad litem under Ohio Revised Code §2151.281. Pursuant to the statute, the guardian ad litem must advocate for the best interests of the child.
Q: What does the term “guardian ad litem” denote?
Guardian ad litem (GAL) is a legal term that translates to “for the lawsuit.” In layperson’s terms, a guardian ad litem is a guardian for the duration of the court process. A guardian ad litem is not the same as a legal guardian. A guardian ad litem advocates for a child’s best interests, and does not provide direct social services to the child.
Q: What qualifications are necessary to become a CASA/GAL?
CASA/GAL volunteers are unpaid community members who have made a commitment to advocate for abused, neglected and dependent children. Though special educational background is not required, those interested in becoming CASA/GAL volunteers must:
*Be 21 years of age;
*Agree to a criminal background check;
*Complete at least 30 hours of pre-service training; and
*Accumulate 12 hours of continuing education each year.
Volunteers are closely screened by local programs for competence, commitment and objectivity.
Q: What types of children do CASA/GAL volunteers work with?
CASA/GAL volunteers are primarily appointed to cases involving child abuse, neglect or dependency. Dependency cases arise when a child is without adequate parental care, through no fault of the child’s parents, guardian or custodian. For example, an orphan would be considered dependent. The statutory definition of dependency varies greatly from its practical application. Oftentimes children are labeled dependent because of circumstances surrounding abuse or neglect which makes the child’s home no longer safe for the child.
Q: Is there a “typical” CASA/GAL volunteer?
CASA/GAL volunteers come from all walks of life, with a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. Volunteers are both male and female. We have volunteers who work both full and part time jobs, and other volunteers who are retired. Because the children served by CASA/GAL volunteers are diverse in background and need, we strive to recruit volunteers diverse in skill.
Q: What does a CASA/GAL actually do?
CASA/GAL volunteers research the child’s circumstances, determine relevant facts in a child’s case and report this information to the court. Their work helps to support the court’s decision concerning the child’s future. A CASA/GAL volunteer focuses his or her recommendations and actions to ensure the best interests of the child are being met. A CASA will also monitor a case—making sure that services ordered are actually provided, and that the court is informed of any new developments. Every case is unique, but a CASA/GAL often must recommend to the court whether or not a child should stay or be reunified with his or her biological parents, be placed in foster care, or be available for adoption with another family. Though the final decision always rests with the judge or magistrate, a CASA/GAL volunteer does his or her best to inform the court as an independent and objective voice for the child.
Q: How does a CASA/GAL gather information to establish recommendations to the court?
To prepare recommendations, a CASA/GAL volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, case workers, school officials, health providers and others who have knowledge of the child’s history. A CASA/GAL volunteer observes interactions between the child and parent, visits the parent’s home and reviews documents and case-related material (i.e.: school records, medical records, children services records, etc.) pertaining to the child. Collectively, the information gathered is analyzed in order to form a recommendation.
Q: On average, how many cases does a CASA/GAL carry at any given time?
Although the number may vary, the average is between one and three cases. Keeping a low caseload is important because it allows the CASA/GAL volunteer to have a thorough knowledge of the case and time necessary to provide quality advocacy. In overburdened child welfare and court systems, this one-on-one attention helps keep vulnerable children from slipping through the cracks.
Q: How much time does it require to be a CASA/GAL volunteer?
Each case is different. When a case is initially assigned, a CASA may spend five to ten hours per week researching the case history and conducting interviews. Volunteers spend anywhere from five to 15 hours a month thereafter. Some cases may continue for two years or longer, and volunteers are asked to commit until a case has been closed. Because caseworker and service provider turnover is very high, often the CASA/GAL volunteer is the only consistent presence in the child’s life.
Q: How does a CASA/GAL volunteer differ from a children services caseworker?
Children services workers are mandated by law to receive reports of abuse and neglect. Once such a report is received they assess the family situation, prepare the case plan and monitor the family’s progress. When necessary, caseworkers will arrange for temporary placement with a relative or a foster home, and arrange visitation for parent and child. Caseworkers link families to community services and resources, and maintain contact with the family and service providers.
CASA/GAL volunteers advocate for the child’s best interests in court. Our volunteers make home visits, conduct ongoing investigations and submit a written report of findings and recommendations to the court. They also interact with the child’s caseworker and attorney, and attend all court hearings, attorney conferences, case meetings and reviews regarding the child. The CASA/GAL volunteer does not replace the caseworker, but serves instead as an independent appointee of the court.
Q: How does a CASA/GAL volunteer differ from an attorney?
A CASA/GAL volunteer does not provide legal representation—that is the role of the attorney. An attorney must advocate the wishes of their client; the guardian ad litem represents the child’s best interests.
Q: Do CASA/GAL volunteers receive training?
Yes, CASA/GAL volunteers receive thorough training! The pre-service training takes a minimum of 30 hours. Through this training volunteers learn about courtroom procedure from those in the profession—judges, lawyers, social workers and court personnel. Volunteers also learn effective advocacy techniques for children and are educated about specific topics ranging from child sexual abuse to how to give a report in court. The training is a culmination of the pre-service training to the swearing-in ceremony by the local juvenile court judge(s). Volunteers also have opportunities during the course of the year to attend in-service training’s, which focus on relevant and timely topics for the CASA/GAL volunteer. In addition, CASA/GAL volunteers are required to complete 12 hours of in-service training annually.
Q: Are there laws that address the work of the CASA/GAL volunteer?
Yes. In Ohio, volunteer guardians ad litem are given statutory authority under Ohio Revised Code (ORC) §2151.281. The guardian ad litem statute requires the court to appoint a guardian ad litem to specific types of cases. ORC §2305.38 provides civil immunity (protection) to uncompensated volunteers of non-profit charitable organizations. Pertinent case law also exists that addresses the work of the CASA/GAL volunteer.
Q: What is the role of the Ohio CASA/GAL Association?
The Ohio CASA/GAL Association was incorporated in 1993 to serve as a network-wide support organization for Ohio’s local CASA/GAL programs. The Association monitors the statewide implementation of National CASA Association standards of practice, holds quarterly director’s meetings and bi-annual training meetings. The Association communicates regularly with local programs via a quarterly newsletter, monthly updates via e-mail, facsimile and Website. Ohio CASA also collects statewide data, provides technical assistance and training, manages the “Celebrate Kids!” specialty license plate, tracks CASA-related legislation and holds an annual “Celebrate Kids!” Conference.
Q: What is the role of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (NCASAA)?
The National CASA Association is a non-profit organization that represents and serves the local and state CASA/GAL programs. NCASAA provides training, technical assistance, research, news and public awareness services to members. NCASAA is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, and is funded by a combination of private grants, federal funds, memberships and contributions.
Q: Are CASA/GAL volunteer programs effective?
According to a number of studies, children who are assigned a CASA/GAL volunteer:
*Spend less time in the court system and less time in foster care than those who do not have CASA/GAL representation;
*Are more likely to be placed in permanent homes; and
*Receive more services than children without CASA/GAL advocacy.
Q: Are there other agencies or organizations that provide the same services as the CASA/GAL program?
While other child advocacy organizations do exist, CASA is the only program where volunteers are appointed by the court to advocate for a child’s best interests.
Q: How was CASA started?
The CASA movement began in 1977 when Judge David Soukup of Seattle, Washington, first recruited community volunteers to speak as guardians ad litem on behalf of abused and neglected children in court. Judge Soukup felt frustrated that he was expected to make life-and-death decisions regarding children with no feedback from the child and only limited information from others involved in the case. He wanted to develop a way to bring more complete information to juvenile judges so that they could better protect children. CASA volunteers proved to be an effective way to help the courts avoid inappropriate and unduly long foster care placements. As a result, other states began to adopt the idea.
Today there are more than 93,300 CASA volunteers serving over 950 CASA programs in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The first Ohio CASA program was founded in October 1980 in Lucas County (Toledo) by Judge Andy Devine, with help from the Junior League. Judge Devine had attended a presentation about the CASA program in Tennessee which inspired him to take the idea back to his community. Judge Devine then traveled to Rhode Island to visit a CASA program and gather further information on program operations. In the program’s first two and a half years, Judge Devine served as the Volunteer Coordinator. The Lucas County CASA/GAL program was third in the nation. CASA programs in Akron and Cincinnati soon followed.
Today there are 44 programs serving 53 counties in Ohio. In 2018, Ohio CASA/GAL programs had approximately 2,400 volunteers serving over 9,500 children.
Juvenile Court CASA Program
101 E. Columbia Street
Springfield, OH 45502
Phone: (937) 521-1622