The CAJA/CASA Story
In 1974, concerned about the staggering numbers of children in foster care, the US Congress passed the "Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act," which provided financial assistance to states for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. The legislation included a requirement for that assistance: mandatory appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the abused or neglected child’s best interest during the judicial proceeding. An attorney was generally appointed to fill this role.
In 1976, Judge David W. Soukup of Seattle, Washington, began to look for alternative ways to implement the law and ensure that the child's best interests would be consistently represented. He found that few court-appointed attorneys had the time or training to carry on the comprehensive, time-consuming investigations that were sometimes required. Judge Soukup decided to utilize trained community volunteers who agreed to make a long-term commitment to each child for whom they would serve as guardians ad litem. This successful program became the pilot for similar programs all over the country.
MADISON COUNTY CAJA
The Madison County program was started by Judge Hartwell Lutz in 1987 after he attended a judicial conference where the CASA concept was presented. He decided to bring the idea home to Madison County.
In 1988, the first formal volunteer training took place. Judge Lutz secured a grant in 1989 and instituted the current formal program with a permanent director and twice-yearly volunteer training.
Currently, the program has 55-65 active volunteers and training classes for new volunteers are held twice per year. Class size averages 12-20 volunteers. CAJA volunteers are trained on child protection laws, court procedures, local services and agencies, and given an overview of the whole child welfare system. In-service training takes place throughout the year for all volunteers to keep them up to date on new policies and issues.
OUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON YOU:
Our future depends on the level of community involvement by ordinary citizens. Even with 55-65 active volunteers, we still cannot respond to all judicial requests for CAJA appointments that we receive.