Court Appointed Special Advocates
Guardian ad Litem Volunteers
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives. See About CASA/GAL Programs.
Watch a video of Judge Catherine Essrig in Tampa, Florida, and courthouse facility dog Tibet, handled by GAL Brenda Kocher:
Courthouse facility dogs first started out working in the criminal justice system, but when family court judges and CASA/GAL volunteers spotted the dogs walking through the courthouse they realized they could fill a desperate need to help children through child abuse and neglect proceedings and help fractured families through this painful process.
These placements began in 2010 when members of the New Mexico Children’s Justice Act advisory group invited Celeste, Molly, and Ellen to give a presentation at the Children’s Law Institute conference in Albuquerque. Since the Children’s Justice Act (CJA) provides grants to States to improve the investigation, prosecution, and judicial handling of cases of child abuse and neglect, particularly child sexual abuse and exploitation, in a manner that limits additional trauma to the child victim, the group hoped to interest CASA organizations and district attorneys in acquiring a facility dog to provide comfort for children in need of these services.
The New Mexico Chaves and Lea County CASA organizations attended our presentation and were inspired to apply to the CJA advisory group for grants to fund their CASA facility dog programs. We partnered up with Assistance Dogs of the West, located in Santa Fe, who provided facility dogs Emma and Cooper and trained their handlers, while we trained the staff and legal professionals about the legal and practical aspects of incorporating a dog in their work. These programs were a huge success and paved the way for other CASA/GAL programs to apply for a facility dog. Sadly Cooper passed away after a six year career helping children in Lea County, but there are plans for a successor facility dog to carry on his important work.
Carrie-Leigh Cloutier, Chaves County (New Mexico) CASA Executive Director, is happy to chat with interested CASA organizations about how her program has developed from the utilization of one to four dogs who provide assistance in a variety of programs offered by her organization.
Now there are CASA/GAL programs in:
- Guardian ad Litem Program of Hillsborough County Florida
- Monroe County CASA Indiana
- Delaware County CASA Program- Indiana
- Albuquerque CASA New Mexico
- CASA of Chaves County New Mexico
- Williamson County CASA Tennessee
- CASA of Titus, Camp and Morris Counties Texas
For additional information about facility dogs assisting in family court proceedings view a short documentary about Brenda Kocher, a Certified Trauma Practitioner/Guardian ad Litem, and facility dog Tibet working at the 13th Judicial District in Florida.