In 1974, Congress enacted legislation that required the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL or "guardian of the case") to promote and protect the best interests of children in cases of abuse and neglect. While the legislation did not specify that GALs must be attorneys, they were the likely and typical appointees. It soon became clear, however, that legal and child protection professionals did not have sufficient resources to effectively advocate for these children.
In 1977, Judge David Soukup (then Presiding Judge of King County Superior Court in Seattle, Washington) searched for alternative ways to ensure that the child' s best interests would be consistently represented to the court. He began using trained citizen volunteers to serve as GALs. His premise was that child welfare and juvenile justice systems lack the resources and singleness of agenda to focus adequate energy on any individual child. Furthermore, he believed that there are capable and caring citizens from every walk of life who genuinely want to help children who have experienced abuse and neglect. CASA provided just such a vehicle.
The program was so successful that soon judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates to represent the best interests of children in their child welfare cases. In 1990, the US Congress encouraged the expansion of CASA programs by passing the Victims of Child Abuse Act.
Alaska CASA Formation
Alaska CASA started in Anchorage in 1987, after an Office of Public Advocacy (OPA) staff attorney attended a conference, heard about the CASA movement, and became intrigued by the concept of using community volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children. Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Reese and Children’s Court Master William Hitchcock played an integral role on the committee that brought CASA to Alaska. In 1988, the Alaska legislature passed a bill that recognized CASA volunteers and gave OPA statutory authority to develop CASA programs.
Every child in state custody in Alaska has a paid GAL advocate, but the paid advocates have high caseloads, particularly in the more populated communities such as those in which we operate CASA programs. The child-to-advocate ratio for a GAL can be as high as 100+ to 1; the child-to-advocate ratio for a CASA volunteer averages about 3 to 1.
A Growing Network of CASA Volunteers
Today, the National CASA network has grown to more than 93,000 volunteers that serve 242,000 abused and neglected children through nearly 1,000 local program offices nationwide. Visit our Get Involved page to learn more about the many ways you can join this important work.