*Originally printed in the Guest Opinion Section of the Idaho Statesman*
yourself as a toddler. Imagine you are being carried away from your home in
nothing but a diaper on a cold January night by a uniformed police officer, a
stranger to you. Imagine someone in the home scrambling to throw some clothing
or a teddy bear into a garbage sack to send along with you.
Imagine your confusion and fear.
And then imagine that someone steps forward on your behalf, someone who cares
only about you and what’s best for you.
That’s the role volunteer Guardians ad Litem (GALs for short) play in Idaho.
They are part of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program that
began in Ada County in 1989. At that time there were 15 cases of child abuse
and neglect in the county, and 15 volunteer GALs acted as the eyes and ears of
the court on behalf of the child’s best interests.
Family Advocates has been operating the CASA program in Ada County since its
inception. That is when the Junior League, the Boise Bar Association and Family
Advocates received permission from the Honorable Richard Grant, Juvenile
Magistrate, to initiate a pilot Guardian ad Litem program in Ada County, with
the stipulation that volunteer legal counsel be included in test cases.
In 1982, the CASA program officially accepted its first child protection
referral. In 1986, Family Advocates, with attorney Eric Haff, took an active
role in working with legislators to revise the Child Protection Act to clearly
define the role of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), making the GAL a party to the
legal action and gaining approval for state funding.
As a result, Idaho law requires that a volunteer must be assigned as the
Guardian ad Litem in a child abuse and neglect case for children under 12 years
of age. Our CASA program receives funding based on that stipulation. However,
Family Advocates does not have enough people to advocate for the child’s best
interest in any of our counties. We need volunteers just like you.
Guardians come from many walks of life. Teachers, physicists, tow truck
drivers, attorneys are just a few of our volunteers. Requirements to become a
GAL are care, compassion, and time. The Family Advocates’ trained staff provide
the rest. You too can help children in your neighborhood.
Since the 1980s we have seen a year-over-year growth in cases of child abuse in
the counties where we offer volunteer support. In Ada County, that number has
soared to 231 this calendar year alone. Ada County is only one county we serve.
To keep up, we need more volunteers to be the voice of logic, reason, and
advocacy in the court rooms on behalf of children who often cannot speak for
Children’s lives are at stake. To learn more about saving those lives, visit www.strongandsafe.org
and consider volunteering your time for this most important program.