The nation's first CASA program was developed in Seattle, Washington in 1977 by Judge David Soukup.
Judge Soukup realized that he needed help in determining what was in the best interest of the children whose cases he had before him in court.
“Over 30 years ago, while sitting as a judge in juvenile court, I realized that there was no one in the courtroom whose only job was to provide a voice for those children. Caseworkers have obligations to their agency, the parent and others. Lawyers cannot investigate the facts and advocate for the mental health and social needs of the child. While sitting at juvenile court, I never got a night’s sleep without waking to wonder if at least one decision I made that day had been the best for a child. It struck me that it might be possible to recruit and train volunteers to investigate a child’s case so they could provide a voice for the child in those proceedings, proceedings which could affect their whole lives. I had my bailiff call four or five people in the community who might be resources in recruiting volunteers to ask if they would meet for a brown bag lunch at juvenile court to discuss the idea. There were 50 people in the room when I walked in for that lunch. I thought, “This idea is going to work.” It has.”
Since then over 1,000 CASA programs have been established throughout the nation.
Judge Dale Harris helped CASA of Central Virginia get started in 1989.
At that time, Lynchburg and Amherst were ranked eighth and ninth respectively among 128 localities in the incidence of child abuse and neglect. Judge Harris requested that the feasibility of beginning a CASA program be studied, and Lynchburg Youth Services was approached with the request. Work began in earnest in the summer of 1989. Sharyn Behnke was hired as a Youth Planner by Lynchburg Youth Services, which also provided in-kind support. Initial grants from the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust and from the Easley Foundation were received. The Junior League of Lynchburg assisted in the start up with five administrative volunteers and funding. A training program was developed, and twelve volunteers were recruited and trained. They were inducted on February 27, 1990. In the first year of the CASA program, these twelve volunteers served 53 children in Lynchburg and Amherst County.
By March 1991, the CASA program had trained a total of 22 additional volunteers. The name was changed to CASA of Central Virginia in July 1991 to reflect the expansion of services into Bedford County, the City of Bedford and Campbell County. With the additional support of The Honorable A. Ellen White, The Honorable Phillip Wallace, and The Honorable Lawrence Janow, CASA of Central Virginia expanded its services into the entire 24th Judicial District, a 2,258 square mile area that includes the City of Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Bedford, Campbell and Nelson. CASA of Central Virginia was incorporated in January 1994 and received its status as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization in August 1994.
In October 2017, CASA of Central Virginia received an expansion grant through the Department of Criminal Justice Services using Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding to expand its services to Appomattox County, part of the 10th Judicial District. In 2018, the program will train its first class of volunteers and begin serving the children of Appomattox.
CASA of Central Virginia is now one of the top three programs in the state of Virginia, supporting nearly 100 volunteers who advocate for almost 300 children a year.
To recruit, train and support volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court system and to educate the community about the needs of these children.
To provide for every child a voice; a safe, permanent and loving home; and hope for a brighter future.