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 of the different things? Is this really right?"
To ensure he was getting all the facts and the 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 courtrooms on behalf of the children: the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers.
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.
In 1978 the National Center of State Courts selected the Seattle program as the "best national example of citizen participation in the juvenile justice system." This recognition, along with a grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation of New York City (one of CASA's earliest and strongest supporters), resulted in the replication of the Seattle CASA program in courts across the country.
As CASA projects developed, each new local program director made an on-site visit to the original Seattle host program for observation and training.
By 1982 it was clear that a national association was needed to direct CASA's emerging national presence. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association was formed that year.
In 1983 Clallam County started a CASA program. Merle Watson, a business man from Beaver, WA. took the Seattle CASA training and went to a National Meeting at his own expense to get our program up and running. When he left the Program in 1987 it had won the respect of the local agencies and the court.
At the present moment 45 community volunteers are assigned to 205 youngsters who are under the protection of the court for alleged abuse or neglect. The community volunteers are of all ages and walks of life. The only requirement to being a CASA/GAL is to be of good moral character and have common sense.
CASA/GAL programs now exist in all of the 50 states.