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 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, Judge Soukup came up with an idea that would change America's judicial procedure and the lives of over a million children. He obtained funding to recruit and train community volunteers to step into courtrooms on behalf of the children: Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers. Implemented in Seattle in 1977, the program provided 110 trained CASA volunteers for 498 children in that first year. National recognition and grants resulted in the replication of the Seattle CASA program in courts across the country.
On April 22, 1985, President Ronald Reagan presented the National CASA Association with the President's Volunteer Action Award for "outstanding volunteer contribution, demonstrating accomplishment through voluntary action." In August of 1989, the American Bar Association officially endorsed the use of CASA volunteers to work with attorneys to speak for abused and neglected children in court.
In July of 1990, the U.S. Congress authorized the expansion of CASA with the passage of the "Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990" (P.L. 101-647), so that a "court-appointed special advocate shall be available to every victim of child abuse or neglect in the United States that needs such an advocate." The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect included utilization of CASA and GAL volunteers among critical first steps recommended to bring the "national emergency" of child abuse and neglect in America today under control.
Today the National CASA Association represents nearly 1,000 CASA and guardian ad litem programs in 49 states and the District of Columbia. CASA of Travis County was created in 1985 by concerned community members and judges and was the fourth CASA program in Texas. In our first year, CASA recruited and trained 43 volunteers who served 85 children. CASA of Travis County is now one of the top ten CASA programs in the nation, supporting close to 750 volunteers who advocate for more than 1,800 children a year.