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CASA and GAL

An Analysis
of Actual
Practice in
Child
Dependency
Cases

Prepared by The American Family Advocacy Center
http://www.profane-justice.org
Copyright 2000 Suzanne Shell
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate)
1. Mission - the Casa program was designed to provide the court with a volunteer from the
community who is trained in child abuse/neglect issues to conduct an independent
investigation into the best interests of the child. Ostensibly, they are represented to be the
voice of the child. They are not supposed to align themselves with any the parties in the
case, but they are to be the objective eyes and the ears of the court.
2. Current training - generally, Casa volunteers undergo approximately 40 hours of training,
before they are assigned to a case. They are required to provide the court with periodic
reports during the dependency and neglect process. Training is often provided by the local
Child Protective Services (CPS) agency. as a result, this training is geared more toward
the predisposition of validating child abuse rather than conducting a thorough and
impartial investigation as their mandate requires. since most CPS agencies operate on the
presumption of guilt, Casa volunteers are often trained to “err on the side of the child”
when it comes to making a judgment call on any issue. Because Casa volunteers are
erroneously trained that a child is not removed from the home unless a thorough
investigation has been conducted and that the child is at risk of or has been injured or
harmed if he is not removed, they do not consider the possibility that the parents could be
innocent of any allegations against them.
As a result, a Casa worker will go into a home to conduct their investigation
operating under the presumption that parents are perpetrators and that the child needs to
be protected from them. This predisposition against the parents has a substantial tendency
to taint the investigation process against the parents from the start.
But we add on to that fact that these volunteers are merely concerned citizens from the
community, who do not have any actual training in proper investigative techniques, and who
were trained by those who have no actual training in proper investigative techniques, all that we
have accomplished by adding a Casa volunteer to the case is to provide the state with another
adversarial witness to testify against the parents.
None of the training the Casa volunteers receive includes any information about the effect
of CPS interventions into nonabusive families.
3. Practices - where theory meets practice, the process breaks down. in many jurisdictions,
Casa volunteers are permitted to sit at the prosecutors table, to cross-examine witnesses,
and to make verbal reports before the court without being under oath, which then renders
the report incapable of being cross-examine. This posture in the courtroom, enhances the
appearance that they are merely another adversarial witness against the parent. since many
parents have already felt that their contact with the Casa volunteer has been adversarial
rather than supportive, and that Casa has not been honest with them or acted in the best
interests of the child, much less to protect the integrity of the family, is it any wonder that
many parents view Casa volunteers as the enemy?
There are two categories of Casa volunteers: those who will aligned themselves
with the CPS agencies and other service providers, and those who will conduct an
impartial investigation and provide an honest report to the court. The ones who provide
honest reports to the court too early in the process, or which contradict the CPS reports
find they don’t get many subsequent assignments.
Some states, such as Florida, have a bastardization of the Casa program and the
guardian ad Litem requirements. In these cases a single volunteer will serve a role with
the court that combines the aspects of both of these programs. In these jurisdictions, were
only a volunteer serves to represent the best interest of the child and to report their
investigation to the court, the risk of biased and or faulty reports increases due to the lack
of training, education and experience of the volunteer.
Some Casa volunteers have been known to complain that the reports that they
submit to their supervisors are altered before they are submitted to the court.
Additionally, if the Casa volunteer makes a favorable report about the parents, and if the
other professionals are in disagreement with the Casa volunteer’s investigation and
report, that report will not be submitted to the court at all. For example: One Casa
volunteer resigned over her outrage at the abuse of power by the other professionals in the
case that she was assigned to, when she was told by her Casa supervisor “it doesn’t
matter what you say. The professionals will stick together on this.” she was subsequently
replaced by and other Casa volunteer who was willing to write reports that were
substantially similar to the caseworker’s and the guardian ad Litem’s reports.
There are consistent reports nationwide that Casa volunteers will do such things as
bribe the children to make false statements which would substantiate a finding of abuse
or neglect, or perpetuate the case. They have taken an active role in undermining the bond
between parent and child, even in the presence of the parent, once again using bribes or
coercion on the child. when they supervise visits, they will interfere with the all too brief
time the parent hast to spend with the child by interrupting the parents, and then they will
report that the parent did not pay appropriate attention to the child, that they spend too
much time speaking with the adult in the room. They will provide such intense scrutiny
over every action that occurs during a supervised visitation, that the parent in the child
cannot interact normally or responded a relaxed manner with each other, which is then
reported to the court as the parents failure to interact properly with the child or the child’s
failure to bond with the parent. the observations that they make indicate that their training
was designed to find as much fault with the parents parenting techniques as possible.
As an example, in one Colorado case where a three-year-old child launched
herself into her father’s lap and clung to him in tears become she had not seen him for
two weeks; where the father held her and read her stories and sang her favorite songs, the
Casa volunteer reported that because he stroked her back and touched her butt twice, that
he was “grooming” her for sexual molestation. This had to have been the effect of the
training the Casa volunteer received, because most normal people do not consider a
parent who physically comforts a distraught child to be grooming them for sexual
molestation. As a result of this report, the father has been denied custody or unsupervised
contact with his daughter for nearly a year now.
When a child reports being abused in foster care, many times a Casa volunteer
will investigate that complaint by questioning the child in the presence of the foster
parent. bearing in mind that a report of abuse which occurs in a foster home is the
responsibility of the foster parent whether or not they perpetrated the abuse, the child will
be intimidated by the presence of the foster parent and will alter their story in order to
protect themselves after the Casa volunteer leaves. The Casa volunteer’s training did not
teach them how to protect the child who makes an allegation of abuse while in state
custody from retaliation for reporting abuse.
Casa volunteers have been reported as capriciously, unilaterally, and arbitrarily
terminating visits that they supervise between parents and children as punishment or
retaliation against parents who insist on their innocence, insist on their rights, or in
anyway challenge the assessment of Casa volunteer.
Casa volunteers are active participants in the practice of isolating the children
from the parents. This is often done as punishment to parents who once again insist on
and their innocence or insist on their rights. This is also done where children continually
refuse to indict their parents with false accusations despite repeated questions and
interrogations from the professionals on the case. children who have initially made a false
allegation against their parents, and then recanted the false allegation, are also isolated
from their parents on the premise that the parent coerced the recantation. This isolation is
designed to bring the children to appoint with able say anything on the promise that they
will be to see their children. They will make recommendations regarding the isolation of
children from their parents which are not based on a best interest of a child, but are based
on the desire to coerce either the child or the parent into some action which will support
the existence of the case.
4. Effects on families - Parents perceive Casa volunteers as shills for the CPS agency.
They will joke that Casa stands for “Children Are Still Abused.” in practice, a Casa
volunteer is used as yet another state witness arrayed against the parents. When parents
demand that all interactions with the Casa volunteer be recorded to preserve the record,
Casa volunteers become defensive and refuse to participate in any recorded. They will
then report to the court that the parent is uncooperative or distrustful.
Children, too, develop a distrust for Casa volunteers who use their position to
keep them away from their parents. Some Casa volunteers have been reported as telling
the children their parents don’t want them, or don’t love them; this is a direct
contradiction to the facts as most parents are fighting diligently to have their children
returned.
The reports Casa volunteers make to the courts are given a substantial amount of
weight by the court. An examination of Casa volunteer reports compared with caseworker
reports often show that information gathered from the beginning of the case which is
erroneous is often perpetuated throughout the course of the case. For example: when he
caseworker rights of a history on the family, in art to substantiate continued intervention,
this history often emphasizes and exaggerates the negative aspects that exist within the
family. This history is then provided to the Casa volunteer and any other service
providers. This erroneous history will become the basis of the Casa report to the court
unless the Casa volunteer conducts her own independent and objective investigation.
Reports by Casa volunteers, when analyzed in conjunction with their handwritten
notes, often indicates that they will extract the negative information to include the reports,
and ignore the positive information about the parent. there is very clearly a bias against
the parent by significant percentage of Casa volunteers.
Some Casa volunteers are so overzealous, that they will look diligently for any
dirt that they can find on apparent. If they cannot find any dirt to substantiate their
negative opinion about the parent, they will manufacture it. In one case, a Casa volunteer,
who happened to be a police officer, insisted that the father was into child pornography.
In order to substantiate his report, he initiated a search on the Internet referencing the
father’s electronic mall Web site. the search results found nothing, but as anyone who has
surfed the Internet knows that often under those circumstances random sites will be listed
in the search results. He went down five sites to the first pornographic Web site and
clicked “find similar.” this resulted in excess of 5 million Web sites being displayed. He
attached the search results to his report and stated that the father owned these Web sites.
Casa volunteer reports and testimonies in court often indicate that they expect
such a high level of perfection of parenting before a child can safely be returned home
them virtually nobody can hope to attain it. They are acting to facilitate the parents failure
in the treatment plan, in the name of the best interests of the child, than supporting the
family and acting to facilitate their success with a treatment plan. Facilitating the success
would into entail making reasonable observations about parent - child interactions, about
the condition of the parents home especially whether the home is safe or not and not
focus on how small or cramped it is, about the attitude of the parent under these very
trying circumstances, been honest and reporting accurately and completely the
information that they have been able to discover to the course of their investigation, and
in general recognizing that the first best interests of the child is to be with his parent if
there really is no substantial evidence of the child has been abused or neglected.
Any absence of any legislation that would allow a parent or child civil or criminal
recourse against malicious reports, false reports, incompetent reports or acts of malice,
bad faith, or incompetence by a Casa volunteer, the family is held hostage to whatever
Casa volunteer the court assigns to their case. The effect of the Casa volunteer program
has been to insurer that the volume of potentially negative reports against the parent,
regardless of the accuracy of those negative reports, has increased significantly. At the
same time, the parent has not been afforded any tools are mechanisms by which they can
be guaranteed to preserve the record that they might effectively rebut a false or malicious
report made by Casa volunteer. As it stands now, it’s the parent’s word against the Casa
volunteer’s word. The court will favor the Casa volunteer every time, whether they
deserve it or not.

Guardians ad Litem
5. Qualifications - in many jurisdictions, guardian ad Litem is required to be an attorney.
However there is a significant portion of jurisdictions where the GAL is not an attorney.
6. Responsibilities - The GAL is generally appointed to represent the best interests of the
child (to be distinguished from representing the child). This representation is based solely
on the subjective analysis of the GAL appointed to the case. In most jurisdictions, they,
too, are required to conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances and
background surrounding the case. They are the legal voice of the child in the courtroom.
A guardian ad Litem does not necessarily replace an attorney who represents the child,
however in most jurisdictions a child is not allowed to have an attorney to represent their
wishes to before the court. GALs are generally required to make a minimum amount of
contact and to submit written reports to the court and all parties. The GALs
recommendations often carry significant weight within the courtroom.
7. Practices - once again, a mechanism that was designed to ensure that the children have a
voice in the proceedings that affect them, has broken down when applied in real life.
Many times children will report that they do not know who their GAL is, or that the GAL
rarely, if ever, talks to them. There have been reported circumstances were children will
insist to their guardian ad Litem that they prefer to live with one parent over the other,
generally due to circumstances of abuse, and the guardian ad Litem will ignore the
children’s reports of abuse at the hands of the offending parent, Emil actually recommend
to the court that the child be returned to the offending parent.in want New York case, a 13
your old girl explained Turner GAL that her mother had pulled a gun her, had beaten her,
and had subjected her to sexual abuse. The girl begged the GAL to tell the court she
wanted to live with her dad. The GAL told little girl, “it’s better for little girls to live with
their moms. I’m going to Teleport that you want to live with your mom.” This child has
had to resort to filing her own appeal with the New York Supreme Court.
The only difference between this case and the millions of other cases around the
country, is at this child was desperate enough to learn how to file an appeal. Many
children are not competent to be able to address these issues at all, and suffer silently
all their fates are being decided by people who won’t listen to them.
Children have been reported as repeatedly begging their GALs to be allowed to
talk to the judge. GALs will not even bring their request before the judge, because of the
child were to talk to the judge, it would indicate that what the GAL said bears no
resemblance to the child’s statements about the case. Children must be kept silent in
many of the child abuse and neglect cases because their statements will not support the
reports made by caseworkers, CASA’s, GALs and other professionals in the case.
What ultimately ends up happening, is that rather than acting in the best interest of
the child, the GAL is acting to promote his own personal agenda. This may be due to
training which instills the notion once again to “err on the side of the child”which is
nothing more than an excuse to conduct a sloppy investigation. We again have another
professional on the case who presents the parents are perpetrators, and requires that they
prove their innocence rather than giving them the presumption of innocence. Since most
children are removed based on nothing more than a risk assessment, how can a parent
prove that they will not abuse or neglect their child in the future?
There are certain jurisdictions where GALs are required to submit written reports
to the court, and they refused to do so. They will make a verbal report to the court and
since the parent has no knowledge of the content of that report until the GAL others it in
the courtroom, they have no way of preparing a defense against it. By refusing to be
placed under oath to allow the report to be subjected to cross-examination, they deny the
parents due process and exert undue control over the outcome of the case.

Copyright © 2000 Suzanne Shell. Copyright terms posted at http://www.profanejustice.org