National Court–Appointed Special Advocate Program

Audit Report 07-04
December 2006
Office of the Inspector General


As required by Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the National Court-Appointed Special Advocate Association (NCASAA).1 The objectives of this audit, as mandated by Congress, were to determine: (1) the types of activities the NCASAA has funded since 1993, and (2) the outcomes in cases where court‑appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers are involved as compared to cases where CASA volunteers are not involved, including:

  • the length of time a child spends in foster care;2

  • the extent to which there is an increased provision of services;

  • the percentage of cases permanently closed;3 and

  • achievement of the permanent plan for reunification or adoption.4


In 1976, Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, Washington, concluded that he was not obtaining sufficient relevant facts during case hearings necessary to ensure that the long-term welfare of a child was being represented. To address this concern, he developed the concept of recruiting and training community volunteers to represent the best interest of a child in court proceedings. In 1977, the first CASA pilot program was implemented in Seattle. The purpose of the CASA program is to ensure that abused and neglected children receive high-quality, sensitive, effective, and timely representation in court hearings to determine their guardianship.

In 1978, the National Center for State Courts selected the Seattle CASA program as the best national example of citizens participating in juvenile justice, resulting in the replication of the program in courts across the country. By 1982, it was clear that a national association was needed to coordinate the 54 existing state and local CASA programs and provide training and technical assistance.

National Court-Appointed Special Advocate Association

In 1984, NCASAA, the national headquarters for CASA programs was opened in Seattle. According to NCASAA’s web site, together with its state and local members, its mission “is to support and promote court-appointed special advocacy for abused and neglected children so they can thrive in safe, permanent homes.” NCASAA provides leadership, training, technical assistance, and subgrants to CASA programs across the country. Additionally, NCASAA stages an annual conference, promotes CASA programs through public awareness efforts, and provides counseling and other resources to help start up new programs and to provide vital assistance to existing programs. The state, local, and tribal CASA programs are responsible for recruiting, training, and supporting volunteers in advocating for abused and neglected children.

At the time NCASAA was incorporated, there were 107 state and local CASA programs in 26 states.5 As of 2005, there were 948 state, local, and tribal CASA programs in 49 states that served an estimated 226,204 children.6 As shown in Figure 1, CASA program coverage varies from state to state.


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 Source: Youngclarke Review7

According to the NCASAA Annual Local Program Survey for 2005, an estimated 226,204 children were served by an estimated 53,847 volunteers, as shown in Table 1.


Number of CASA/GAL program offices


Number of volunteers


Children served


New volunteers trained


New children assigned a CASA volunteer


Source: NCASAA Annual Local Program Survey, 2005

Additionally, according to the 2005 NCASAA Annual Survey, nearly 15,000 new volunteers were trained and nearly 80,000 new children were assigned to a volunteer during 2005.

Court-Appointed Special Advocates

A number of states have legal requirements that specify whether an attorney or volunteer may be appointed as the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent a child in the CWS. Other states detail the roles and responsibilities of the CASA volunteers, their qualifications and training, and their rights and powers. However, a number of states provide greater discretion to the local courts. The most common differences among states involve the role and formal status of the volunteer, the forms of attorney representation, the formal relationship between the volunteer and the attorney for the child, and types of cases accepted.

There are five general activities associated with the role of a CASA volunteer:

  • Fact finding and information gathering - CASA volunteers meet with and interview everyone connected with the child. They frequently visit with and observe the child, visit the homes of the child and the parent, contact caseworkers, and review case records. These activities help the advocates gain insight into what is best for a child, what kinds of services might be helpful, and what support is needed to move toward achieving the permanent plan.

  • Legal representation - These activities must be performed by a CASA volunteer who is a licensed attorney. The activities include appearances at hearings, filing motions and other legal papers, and advising the child on legal issues. In this role, the CASA volunteer may make recommendations to the court regarding the permanent plan for placement of the child, services to be provided, and visitation issues.

  • Negotiation and mediation - The CASA volunteer develops agreements and conditions between the parties as they pertain to the welfare of the child.

  • Case monitoring - The CASA volunteer maintains contact with the child and other relevant parties, monitors the child’s special needs, and follows up on court orders.

  • Resource brokering – The CASA volunteer works in the community to help children and their parents to obtain needed services.

Regardless of the parameters of the CASA volunteer’s activities within the court system, NCASAA has provided some guiding principles that help ensure the quality of the advocacy. Volunteers:

  • must have access to legal support;

  • must be independent;

  • should be appointed to the case at the earliest possible time;

  • should receive notice of all hearings, staffing, and other case conferences related to the child;

  • should have complete access to all information related to the child and the child’s situation; and

  • should have immunity from liability for performing their role in a responsible manner.

CASA Volunteer Application, Screening, and Selection

According to NCASAA’s standards, all applicants who want to become CASA volunteers are required to:8

  • Complete a written application concerning education, training, employment, and experience in working with children.

  • Submit three references, of which two must not be related to the applicant.

  • Authorize federal, state, and local criminal, sex offender, and child neglect and abuse checks.

  • Participate in interviews with program personnel.

To become a CASA volunteer, applicants must be at least 21 years of age and have successfully passed the application and screening process. Before volunteers are assigned to a case, all screening must be completed with written verification on file at the program office.

CASA Volunteer Training

State, local, and tribal CASA programs train volunteers using the NCASAA’s national training curriculum or its equivalent. Training consists of 30 hours of required pre-service training and 12 hours of required annual in‑service training. Additionally, if the court served by the CASA program allows, volunteers are required to observe an in-session abuse or neglect proceeding before appearing in court for an assigned case.

Statistics on Child Abuse in the United States

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in fiscal year (FY) 2004 an estimated 3 million children were alleged to have been neglected or abused and were the subject of investigation or assessment by state or local child protective services (CPS) agencies.9 Additionally, in FY 2004:

  • Approximately 872,000 children were identified as victims of maltreatment.

  • An estimated 1,490 children died as a result of child abuse or neglect.

  • More than 80 percent of the children who died were 4 years old or younger.

An HHS report, The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Report No. 13, Preliminary FY 2005 Estimates, September 2006 (2005 AFCARS Report), estimated that as of September 30, 2005:10

  • An estimated 513,000 children were in foster care.

  • The average age of children in foster care was 10 years old and the average length of stay in foster care was 28.6 months.

  • 118,000 children were waiting adoption.

Further, according to the 2005 AFCARS report, in FY 2005 approximately 311,000 children entered foster care, while 287,000 exited foster care.


Over the past 32 years, Congress has enacted the following legislation related to protecting children from abuse and neglect.

  • In 1974, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) formally recognized the importance of providing independent representatives for children in court proceedings by mandating that each child have a guardian ad litem.

  • The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 mandated a greater emphasis on ensuring that permanent placement is achieved for children in foster care and required that every 6 months juvenile and family courts review all cases involving abused or neglected children.

  • CAPTA was amended by the Child Abuse Prevention, Adoption and Family Services Act of 1988. This Act directed the Secretary of HHS to establish a national data collection and analysis program, which became The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, for state child abuse and neglect reports.

  • The Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 required that “a CASA shall be available to every victim of child abuse or neglect in the United States that needs such an advocate.”

  • CAPTA was amended in 1996 mandating that states seeking federal funding under the Act must create citizen review panels, which provide citizen oversight to ensure attainment of state goals for protecting children from abuse and neglect.

  • The Adoptions and Safe Families Act of 1997 shortened timelines to encourage the speedy adoption of children for whom reunification or guardianship is not an option.

Office of Justice Programs

Since 1984, DOJ Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has worked to improve the juvenile justice systems and assist crime victims. The Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990, as amended, authorized the OJP Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to administer a newly created CASA grant program.

The OJP Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) also provides funding through the Tribal Court CASA Program, which assists in developing and enhancing programs that provide volunteer advocacy for abused or neglected Native American children. Additionally, CASA programs are also eligible to receive Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding at the state level, which provides support services to crime victims.

OJP partners with the NCASAA to administer the CASA program and provide funding, training, and technical assistance to state, local, and tribal CASA programs. Since 1993, OJP has awarded NCASAA 15 grants totaling $100.4 million, including 12 OJJDP grants totaling $98.52 million, and 3 OVC grants totaling $1.88 million, as shown in Table 2.






$ 3.50









































































Source: Office of Justice Programs

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

The mission of OJJDP is to provide national leadership, coordination, and resources to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization. OJJDP supports states and communities in their efforts to develop and implement effective and coordinated prevention and intervention programs, and to improve the juvenile justice system so that it protects public safety, holds offenders accountable, and provides treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of juveniles and their families. Additionally, OJJDP administers the distribution of grants to the CASA program, authorized by the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990, as amended, which directs that a CASA shall be available to every victim of child abuse or neglect if needed.

As stated previously, OJP partners with NCASAA to administer the distribution of grants to the CASA program. Since 1993, OJJDP has awarded NCASAA 12 grants totaling $98.52 million. In turn, NCASAA uses a portion of this funding to provide subawards to state, local, and tribal CASA programs on a competitive basis. The subgrants awarded by NCASAA are used for: (1) new program development, (2) expansion programs, (3) state organizations, (4) urban program demonstration, and (5) increasing the diversity of CASA staff and volunteers to better meet the needs of children from diverse communities. In awarding subgrants, NCASAA stated that it emphasizes increasing the availability of advocates in communities where existing services do not meet the needs of families and children.

Office for Victims of Crime

The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) was formally established in 1988 as a result of an amendment to the 1984 Victims of Crime Act. OVC provides leadership and funding on behalf of crime victims. In addition, OVC provides funding for the Tribal Court CASA Program mentioned previously, which is also administered by NCASAA. Since 1993, OVC has awarded NCASAA three grants totaling $1.88 million. CASA programs are also eligible to receive Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding at the state level. VOCA victim assistance grant funds support services to victims of crime. However, not all children represented by a CASA volunteer are victims of crime.

The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System

The 1988 amendment to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act directed HHS to establish a national data collection and analysis program through its Children’s Bureau in the Administration for Children, Youth and Families. The data is then input into the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS).

The NCANDS collects case-level data on all children who are involved in an investigation or assessment by a CPS agency. The data are submitted voluntarily, and used for an annual Child Maltreatment report, which is published each spring. In addition, data are used in several efforts by the Children's Bureau to measure the impact and effectiveness of CPS agencies. The NCANDS data includes information on:

  • the characteristics of referrals of abuse or neglect that are made to CPS agencies,

  • the types of maltreatment that are alleged,

  • the dispositions (or findings) of the investigations,

  • the risk factors of the child and the caregivers,

  • the services that are provided, and

  • the perpetrators.

The Adoption and Foster Care Reporting and Analysis System

The HHS Adoption and Foster Care Reporting and Analysis System (AFCARS) collects case-level information for placement, care, or supervision on all children in foster care for whom the state CWS agencies are responsible. In addition, AFCARS contains data on children who are adopted under the auspices of the state's CWS. States are required to submit AFCARS data semi-annually to the HHS’ Administration for Children, Youth and Families. The semi-annual AFCARS reports cover the periods October 1 through March 31, and April 1 through September 30. The AFCARS report provides information on the:

  • number of children in foster care,

  • number of children who entered foster care that year,

  • number of children who exited foster care that year,

  • number of children awaiting adoption at year end and months in foster care,

  • number of children in foster care with parental rights terminated and the months since parental rights were terminated, and

  • number of children adopted with public agency involvement.

Prior Reviews

Since inception of NCASAA in 1982, over 70 reviews, studies, and surveys of the CASA program have been conducted by a wide range of institutions, agencies, individuals, or other organizations. Out of the 70 prior reports, we identified two studies of the CASA program that in our judgment provided the most comprehensive and current information related to the outcome objectives mandated by Congress for this audit.

  • Youngclarke, Ramos, and Granger-Merkle, A Systematic Review of the Impact of Court-Appointed Special Advocates, 2004 (Youngclarke Review). The Youngclarke Review summarized the findings of 20 prior studies that assessed the impact of CASA programs. In conducting the review, almost 70 prior studies of CASA programs were analyzed, but only 20 met the criteria for inclusion in the Youngclarke Review.11 The review compares the combined average outcome measures reported in the prior studies for cases involving a CASA volunteer to those for which a CASA volunteer was not appointed.

  • Caliber Associates, Evaluation of CASA Representation, 2004, (Caliber Study).12 The Caliber Study combines data from the NCASAA’s management information systems and data collected through the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well‑Being, a federally sponsored national survey of children and their families. The study compares outcome measures for cases involving a CASA volunteer to those for which a CASA volunteer was not appointed.

The results reported in the Youngclarke Review and Caliber Study that pertain to the objectives of this audit are discussed in the Findings and Recommendations sections of this report.

In addition to the Youngclarke Review and the Caliber Study, we identified two surveys that provided useful information in understanding the relationship between CASA volunteers and judges, attorneys, child welfare workers, and both biological and adoptive parents. While these surveys do not speak directly to the audit objectives, they provide useful insight into the effectiveness of CASA programs.

  • Pat Litzelfelner, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, College of Social Work, National CASA Consumer Satisfaction Survey, September 2003. This study found that judges and attorneys in the CWS expressed the highest overall satisfaction with CASA programs. Additionally, both the biological parents and the foster parents spoke highly of the CASA volunteers.

  • Organizational Research Services, Evaluation of Court‑Appointed Special Advocates/Guardians Ad Litem Volunteer Impact, September 2005 (Organizational Research Services Study). This study found that CASA volunteers: (1) are very effective in supporting court processes through a wide range of activities, (2) perform activities that have been very useful in making decisions concerning case outcomes, (3) tend to be assigned to the most difficult cases, and (4) provide recommendations that are frequently incorporated into court orders.

  1. Pub. L. No. 109-162 (2006)

  2. Generally, prior studies of the CASA program and the data tracked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on children in the state and local child protective services (CPS) system reported on children in out-of-home care rather than children in foster care. The information reported on children in out-of-home care includes all children in foster care, as well as children placed with a relative or legal guardian, who was not a qualified foster parent. Since the prior studies and available HHS data did not include information on only those children in foster care, in this report we considered all children in out-of-home care to be in “foster care” for the purposes of addressing this objective.

  3. All state and local CPS cases are eventually permanently closed because even in those cases for which permanent placement of the child was not achieved, the case is closed when the child reaches the age of majority, is incarcerated, or dies. As a result, for the purposes of this audit we defined permanent closure as those cases that had been closed by CPS, whether due to permanent placement or any other reason, and the child had not reentered the Child Welfare System (CWS) at anytime prior to the date the case data was collected for this audit.

  4. For each child in the CWS, a permanent plan for the placement of the child is developed. The permanent plan outlines what will happen to the child upon resolution of the cases. Generally, the permanent plan is either reunification with the parents or adoption.

  5. These programs include both CASA volunteers and guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteers, who are generally lawyers appointed by the court to represent children in abuse or neglect cases. A CASA volunteer may also be a GAL or work in conjunction with a GAL.

  6. North Dakota is the only state with a CASA program that is not a member of NCASAA because it uses paid advocates rather than volunteers.

  7. Youngclarke, Davin M. and Kathleen Ramos and Lorraine Granger-Merkle. "A Systematic Review of the Impact of Court-Appointed Special Advocates," Journal of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, Vol. 5, 2004 (Youngclarke Review) p. 111.

  8. NCASAA, Standards for Local CASA/GAL Programs, 2006.

  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Child Maltreatment 2004, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006).

  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, The AFCARS Report No.13, Preliminary FY 2005 Estimates, September 2006.

  11. Although the findings of 20 previous studies on CASA programs were included in the Youngclarke Review, none of the studies addressed all of the measurement outcomes. Therefore, the summary data for each outcome measure is based on a different number of studies and occasionally includes different studies altogether. Additionally, the outcome measures summarized in the Youngclarke Review are separated into two categories: the combined-all category, which includes all studies with relevant data, and the combined‑levels 1 and 2 category, which includes only those studies that were determined to have the strongest levels of evidence ratings. For the purposes of this report we only used the summary outcome measures reported for the combined-level 1 and 2 category because the studies included in this analysis were determined to have the highest levels of evidence.

  12. It should be noted that the Caliber Study was funded in part by NCASAA. Funding was also provided by the Packard Foundation.

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