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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

CASA? Guardian ad litem? Court proceedings? We know you have questions about CASA and its volunteers—please take a look at the following answers to the questions that we hear most.

What does the term “Guardian ad Litem” mean?

"Guardian ad litem" is a legal term meaning guardian for the lawsuit. In other words, the term refers to a temporary guardian assigned to a child for the duration of the court process. A Guardian ad Litem is not the same as a legal guardian. The Guardian ad Litem has no control over the person or property of the child and does not provide a home for the child. The Guardian ad Litem is an advocate for the child’s best interests. The Guardian ad Litem does not function as the child’s attorney and does not provide direct social services to the child.

What is the difference between a Guardian ad Litem and a CASA volunteer?

In many other states, the term CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) refers to a volunteer who carries out the functions of a Guardian ad Litem. Minnesota statutes use the term “Guardian ad Litem” for both paid and volunteer advocates. The name of our organization, CASA Minnesota, designates our affiliation with the National Association of Court Appointed Special Advocates (National CASA) and signifies our mission of supporting and promoting volunteer Guardians ad Litem in Minnesota.

Who can be a CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem?

Since the primary duty of the CASA volunteer and Guardian ad Litem is to represent the best interests of the child, the most important qualifications for this job are life experience and good common sense. CASA volunteers and Guardians ad Litem must also have the ability to be objective, think independently and work effectively with individuals from various cultures and backgrounds. People from all walks of life have been successful Guardians ad Litem. All prospective Guardians ad Litem must complete a written application and complete a screening process which includes an interview, written references, a criminal background check and fingerprinting. All volunteers must meet the 40-hour pre-service training requirement, receive on-going supervision and complete 12 hours of continuing education annually.

What are the primary functions of the CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem?

CASA volunteers and Guardians ad Litem perform the functions described below.

  1. They gather information for the court:
    • What has happened to the child
    • The current needs and circumstances of the child
  2. They make recommendations to the court:
    • What the child needs to be safe
    • What treatment plans should be ordered for the child and family
    • What permanent resolution is in the best interests of the child
  3. They advocate for speedy decisions that consider the child's sense of time.

Why does a child need a CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem?

According to federal and Minnesota state law, all children whose parents may have abused or neglected them must have a Guardian ad Litem. When the court is making decisions that will affect a child's future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson—an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, they also have other interests. The Guardian ad Litem is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interests of the child.

What is the difference between a CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem and a social worker?

The roles are not the same. The Guardian ad Litem is independent from the social services system and focuses solely on the child. The social worker serves the family--parents and child--by providing direct services and has a focus on reunification. Social workers are not able to be a wholly independent voice because they are part of the agency that has already taken a position in the case by filing a petition and bringing the matter to court. Social workers may also find themselves constrained in their recommendations by rules and regulations, agency policies and fiscal limitations.

Does the CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem go to court?

Yes. The Guardian ad Litem is expected to attend every court hearing and in some cases may be a witness. The Guardian ad Litem makes written or oral reports and recommendations. In cases which proceed to trial, some programs provide legal consultation and representation to Guardians ad Litem.

Does the court listen to what the CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem has to say?

Yes! Judicial officers know their decisions are only as good as the information they receive. They count on Guardians ad Litem to be an independent voice and they know that Guardians ad Litem may have more time to focus on specific cases. A Guardian ad Litem who can tell the court “I was there; this is what I observed” can be invaluable.

Does the CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem ask the court to do what the child wants?

No. The Guardian ad Litem should always listen to the child, and may report to the court what the child wants. In all cases, Guardians ad Litem must make their own recommendations as to what will be best for the child. The child does not always know what is in his or her best interests.

Is the CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem allowed to make decisions at court?

No. The judicial officer makes decisions after listening to everyone who took part in the court hearing. Like the other people in the case, the Guardian ad Litem can only make requests and recommendations about what should happen.

How does a CASA volunteer or Guardian ad Litem decide what to recommend?

The Guardian ad Litem talks with the people who know a lot about the child. This may include the child, the parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, social workers, psychologists, doctors and others with important information. The Guardian ad Litem reads the reports written about the child and the family and visits where the child lives and where the child might go to live. The Guardian ad Litem also researches services available for the child and family.

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