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Office of the Guardian ad Litem and CASA
The Guardian ad Litem attorney and CASA volunteer coordinate ideas and plans in a viable partnership to ensure that the needs of a child are met in that child's best interests.
Each year the Office of the Guardian ad Litem is appointed in over 1,800 new cases which have been filed in the Utah court system, alleging that children have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. These cases involve children who need legal representation before the court and coordinate assistance to make sure their needs are met. On July 1, 1994, Guardian ad Litem attorneys began ensure representation for each child. It is the court who appoints a Guardian ad Litem. In the juvenile court (child welfare proceedings). Guardian ad Litem appointments are mandatory in every case where there are allegations of abuse or neglect. The District Court appointment of the Guardian ad Litem is governed by UCA §78-7-9. In a matter involving allegations of child abuse, appointment is mandated once a party requests it, in addition, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem on its own.
The creation of the Office of the Guardian ad Litem and passage of the Child Welfare Reform Act in 1994 is part of a bigger movement to change the way the child welfare system responds, in particular, to children in foster care. Children should not be raised in foster care. Within 12 months children need to be safely returned home or another permanent home should be found for them. The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is also appointed to represent children in custody actions where there are allegations of abuse or neglect, in protective order proceedings and in some criminal actions in the district courts. Unfortunately there are many children in Utah who need protection. The Guardian ad Litem attorneys have caseloads ranging from 60 to 290. One attorney may be responsible to represent over 300 children. Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), who are trained volunteers working with Guardian ad Litem attorneys in the juvenile court. The CASA volunteer is asked to handle only one case at a time so that intense time may be spent with the child to obtain factual information to assist the GAL to represent the child's best interests. We now have over 400 CASA volunteers statewide. These volunteers spend an average of 8 hours per month on each case that they have been assigned, with some volunteers spending as much as 30 hours in a given month.
"It is the Guardian ad Litem's duty to stand in the shoes of the child and to weigh the factors as the child would weigh them if his judgement were mature and he was not of tender years."
- J.W.F. v. Schoolcraft.
763 P.2d 1217,1222 (Utah App. 1988)
The Mission of the Utah State Office of the Guardian Ad Litem And Casa
The Office of the Guardian ad Litem is a state office within the Judicial Branch of government which advocates for the best interest of abused and neglected children within the court system. The Guardian ad Litem attorney and CASA volunteers work in collaboration with key agencies and community resources to serve as the child's advocate and represent what is in the best interest of the child in the court. The Office of the Guardian ad Litem promotes the policies of the Child Welfare Reform Act: that children in foster care not remain in limbo more than 12 months without a permanency decision. The Office of the Guardian ad Litem and CASA also strive to assure adequate representation for each child for whom the office is appointed whether or not that child is in foster care.
A CASA Volunteer serves as the eyes and ears of the Office of the Guardian ad Litem and the court by gathering relevant information about the child and the family, and most importantly, getting to know the child-the one about whom all these decisions will be made.
The Utah State Courts mission is to provide the people an open, fair, efficient, and independent system for the advancement of justice under the law.