In 1976, Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, WA saw a recurring problem in his courtroom:
"In criminal and civil cases, even though there were always many different points of view, you walked out of the courthouse at the end of the day and you said, 'I've done my best; I can live with this decision," he explains.
"But when you're involved with a child and you're trying to decide what to do to facilitate that child's growth into a mature and happy adult, you don't feel like you have sufficient information to allow you to make the right decision. You can't walk away and leave them at the courthouse at 4 o'clock. You wonder, 'Do I really know everything I should? Have I really been told all the different things? Is this really right?'"
To ensure he was getting all the facts, and long-term welfare of each child was being represented, the Seattle judge came up with an idea that would change America's judicial procedure and the lives of thousands of children. He obtained funding to recruit and train community volunteers to step into the courtroom on behalf of the children: the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers.
"As a judge, I had to make tough decisions, I had to decide whether to take a child from the only home he's ever known, or leave him someplace where he might possibly be abused. I needed someone who could tell me what was best for that child from the child's viewpoint. That's what a CASA does." -Judge David Soukup
This unique concept was implemented in Seattle as a pilot program in January 1977. During that first year, the program provided 110 trained CASA volunteers for 498 children in 376 dependency cases. As CASA projects began to develop, the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association was formed in 1982 to direct CASA's emerging national presence.
Today, the National CASA Association represents more than 948 CASA programs in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It provides support for starting programs, technical assistance, training, fundraising, media, and public awareness services.
Since its creation in 1977, CASA has had a dramatic impact on the nation's court system. Programs often differ from one jurisdiction to another, with varying operation methods and sources of funding. CASA is known at the local level by a variety of other names. Some examples are: Voices for Children, ProKids, or Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). However, in all states the CASA volunteer is a monitor, providing research and background, and following through on each case to see that the court's recommendations are carried out.