Building Brighter Futures: The Impact of the 4th Judicial District CASA Program

For over 43 years, the 4th Judicial District CASA Program has been dedicated to advocating for foster children in child protection cases. With the invaluable support of our passionate volunteers and staff, we work tirelessly to serve children and youth in our community. Our trained volunteer Guardians ad Litem (GALs) are supported by Pro Bono Attorneys that represent them in court, and CASA staff members that provide guidance and support to GALs through training, ongoing continuing education, and case management as GALs conduct independent investigations to provide best interest advocacy for the children and youth they serve. In fiscal year 2023 alone, we had 159 active Guardians ad Litem (GALs) advocating for over 536 children and youth, represented by 108 Pro Bono Attorneys, and supported by a team of 11 CASA staff members. Together, we form a village of dedicated individuals committed to making a positive impact on the lives of foster children.

Training and Support

Our GALs undergo comprehensive training to prepare them for their role as advocates for foster children. Led by experienced facilitators, the 30-hour Guardian ad Litem Pre-Service Training provides a strong foundation. In addition, our CASA Trainer offers ongoing continuing education opportunities, ensuring GALs meet their annual 12-hour education requirement. In fiscal year 2023, we conducted 10 Pre-Service Training sessions for 31 new GALs and hosted 14 continuing education events. We also introduced the Fostering Futures curriculum, a specialized training program for older youth-focused advocacy, which was attended by 22 GALs. To foster a sense of community, our CASA staff organizes Coffee with a CASA Program, where GALs can gather to discuss relevant topics related to their work.

CASA staff provide support to GAL volunteers on a daily basis whether in the office or out in the community to serve volunteers that live outside of Ada County. The Rural County Advocate Coordinator conducts monthly resource runs to Boise and Valley counties, enabling us to connect with GALs serving those regions and engage in recruitment and outreach efforts. These resource runs provide necessary items for children in foster care, such as school workbooks, diapers, and outdoor summer activities. This support helps maintain a strong connection between GALs and the Family Advocates office, regardless of the distance.

Hitting the Ground Running

Our commitment to prompt action is exemplified by the story of a newly trained GAL who accepted her first case immediately after completing Pre-Service training. By stepping in as a substitute Guardian, she ensured continuity of best interest advocacy for a child whose previous GAL was relocating.

Going the Extra Mile

We recognize the exceptional dedication of our GAL volunteers. In 2023, a Guardian residing in a rural community traveled a total of 1,930 miles, spending 122.8 hours and $1,118 in gas to visit children placed outside of the county. From attending birthdays and Christmas celebrations to casual coffee meetups 278 miles from home, this Guardian’s commitment to maintaining a connection with the children and their well-being is truly commendable.

Teaching New Skills and Fostering Joy

Being a Guardian ad Litem is not only a responsibility but also an opportunity for meaningful experiences. One GAL shared their joy in engaging with the children on their case, helping them learn to ride bikes, and participating in outdoor activities. They have observed them playing and biking with other children in their neighborhood, going to the park with them, and sliding down the slides on the play equipment with them. They say that there are always lots of smiles, laughter, and fist bumps.

Advocating and Collaborating for New Placements

When a foster child experienced abuse in their pre-adoptive placement and expressed a strong desire to leave. It was difficult to find a new placement for the child, and the Guardian ad Litem became a powerful advocate. Collaborating with the child’s counselor, they effectively conveyed the child’s wishes to the social worker. Thanks to their unwavering advocacy, the child was placed with a new family where they feel safe and are adjusting well. Going above and beyond, the Guardian ad Litem provided weekly visits, ensuring a smooth transition and ongoing support. Their outstanding dedication truly made a difference!

Stepping Up and Saying Yes

The CASA volunteers continuously demonstrate their commitment to serving children and youth in our community. In a brief period, the CASA Program was appointed to 19 new cases, and our GAL volunteers promptly stepped in to ensure that each child had a dedicated advocate in court. However, the support of Pro Bono Attorneys was still required. Within a mere five hours of the attorney newsletter being sent out, all 11 cases had attorneys ready to represent the GALs. This collective effort showcases the incredible willingness of our volunteers to make a meaningful impact.

On average, GALs volunteer with the CASA Program for about three years, but a remarkable 27% of our GALs have dedicated four or more years to the cause. We even have a volunteer who has been with us for an incredible 14 years! Each volunteer brings a unique blend of compassion and passion to their role, whether it’s their initial months or their 168th month of service. If you’re interested in becoming a Guardian ad Litem or Pro Bono Attorney, we invite you to join us for an upcoming Volunteer Information Hour this summer. Let’s work together to create a brighter future for children and youth in need.