Inspiration came to Seattle juvenile court judge David W. Soukup in 1976.
Judge Soukup had insufficient information to make a life-changing decision for a 3-year-old girl who had suffered from child abuse.
That’s where the idea came from: These children, who had experienced abuse or neglect, needed trained volunteers speaking up in the courtroom for their best interests.
“It terrified me to make decisions about kids when I didn’t have anybody there that was only advocating for the child, not as an attorney but as a party to the case.” -Judge David W. Soukup
Judge Soukup obtained funding to start the first Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) pilot program in 1977. During that first year, the program provided 110 trained volunteers for 498 children in 376 dependency cases.
As word of the program’s success spread, similar programs began all over the United States. Because some states require GALs to be attorneys, the term Court Appointed Special Advocate – CASA – was coined to describe volunteers from local communities trained to serve as advocates for abused and neglected children involved in juvenile court proceedings. In 1982 the National CASA Association was established to assist the growing number of programs in the country.
Today, there are 950 CASA programs serving communities in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Those programs recruit and train the over 93,000 current CASA volunteers who are making a difference for foster youth nationwide.
Our Local Story
CASA of the Eastern Sierra also came about because of a judge (or two). Inyo County Judge Dean Stout-retired, and Mono County Judge Stan Eller-retired, saw the benefit of providing CASAs for the children of the Eastern Sierra. They worked with community members to establish the first CASA Program of the Eastern Sierra in 2012 under the umbrella of Wild Iris. Virginia ‘Ginnie’ Bird, joined the CASA team in 2015 and together with Annette Apalatea grew the program into a vibrant and viable program to serve foster children in Inyo and Mono Counties. Ginnie retired in 2019 and Annette left for a job with the Bishop Paiute Tribal Court soon after.
The newest chapter of the CASA of the Eastern Sierra story is being headed by Barbara Keller with the help of Emma Lavelle, their goals are to not only expand the program but also establish a stronger presence in the communities CASA of the Eastern Sierra serves.