CASA Volunteers Provide Invaluable Service – Judge John E. Payne, Retired Circuit Judge – 15th Judicial Circuit
The nation’s first juvenile court was established in Cook County, Illinois in 1899. Using a model which would eventually be adopted by every state, Illinois created a separate court « to regulate the treatment and control of dependent, neglected and delinquent children. »
The British doctrine of parens patriae (the state as parent) was the rationale for the right of the state to intervene in the lives of children in a manner different from the way it intervenes in the lives of adults. The doctrine was interpreted to mean that, because children were not of full legal capacity, the state had the responsibility to provide protection for children whose parents were not providing appropriate care of supervision or were abusing or neglecting their children.
A key element was the focus on the welfare of the child. The goal of the juvenile court in handling these cases has always been to protect the children by first determining from the evidence presented the validity of child abuse and neglect charges and then deciding whether the children need to be placed outside their home or if they can remain at home with supervision and services from public or private agencies.
If a child remains in the home, services are provided to keep the family intact. If the child needs to be removed from the home, then the immediate goal is to provide services to the parents to allow for the child to be reunited with the parents. In the event these services are not successful, then the court must find a safe and permanent placement for the child in a timely manner.
It is important for children to grow up in safe and stable homes. It is potentially harmful for them to grow up being moved in and out of the custody of their families and/or from one foster placement to the next. This is particularly true for very young children whose physical, emotional, and cognitive development is so rapid and so critical.
Federal legislation has affirmed the importance of achieving safe, stable and permanent placements for all children. Timely decision-making by the courts and the child welfare agencies is important in meeting the developmental needs of children for safe and permanent homes.
The Juvenile Court Act directs the trial court to appoint a guardian ad litem for children who are subject to a petition alleging abuse or neglect. The guardian ad litem can be an attorney or a non-attorney. The Juvenile Court Act specifically provides for the court to appoint a court-appointed special advocate or CASA representative as guardian ad litem.
The court appointed special advocate program began in the state of Washington in 1977. This program has been adopted throughout the United States.
Illinois currently has a court appointed special advocate program established by statute. The statute provides that this individual shall act as a monitor and shall be notified of all administrative case reviews pertaining to the child and work with the attorneys for all the parties and others assigned to the case in order to protect the minor’s health, safety and best interests and ensure the proper delivery of child welfare services. These individuals may be called upon by the court to testify at hearings.
The CASA volunteer serves as volunteer without compensation and receives appropriate training consistent with nationally developed standards. Any court appointed special advocate acting in good faith within the scope of his or her appointment has immunity from civil or criminal liability that otherwise might result by reason of his or her actions.
I have been assigned to juvenile cases in Lee County since January 1996. During that time, I have observed CASA volunteers on a weekly basis being involved in the juvenile court process. I have noted that these individuals have sincere concern for and dedication to the best interests of the minor children that they represent. These volunteers give of themselves so that the best interests of the children that they serve can be provided for.
The volunteers prepare written reports for the court to review to determine whether or not the various service plans for the children are being carried out in accordance with developing permanency for the child. The reports also note whether various parties to the case are complying with the orders of the court concerning the service plans.
While the court, the state’s attorney’s office, and various service providers must deal with a number of cases, each CASA volunteer focuses on one child or several children within the same family. This allows the CASA volunteer to come before the court with a very unique perspective as to the best interests of the child.
The service that these volunteers provide to their community, to the court system, and most particularly to the young children who because of neglect or abuse need strong voices from the court appointed special advocates is invaluable.
CASA Plays Vital Role in Protecting Children – Judge Val Gunnarsson, Circuit Judge – 15th Judicial Circuit
CASA has established itself in Carroll County as a vital part of the child protection process. In every proceeding brought in the Carroll County courts on behalf of an abused or neglected child, I depend heavily upon the active involvement of the CASA volunteer to help me better understand the life and circumstances of the child.
Only when the rare circumstances arise that there is not a CASA volunteer available for a new child do I worry that the child’s needs and best interests might not be clearly heard. Fortunately, those sad circumstances are indeed rare, and we are blessed always with new volunteers who step forward to give of their time for the benefit of the children at risk. I extend to CASA, its staff and volunteers, my genuine thanks.