Document Type


Publication Date



Every day in state and local courts throughout the United States, judges are called upon to decide who should have the responsibility for the immediate and long-term care of neglected and abused children. Federal recognition of the right to independent advocacy for children subject to these proceedings originates with the 1974 Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). As a condition of receiving federal funds for child abuse prevention services through CAPTA, states must provide for the appointment of an appropriately trained guardian ad litem (GAL) for every child whose case results in a judicial proceeding. A guardian ad litem (GAL) may be an attorney, a lay advocate (such as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)), or both. CAPTA charges child representatives to obtain "first-hand a clear understanding of the situation and needs of the child; and to make recommendations to the court concerning the best interests of the child." This CAPTA requirement reflects the view that children have interests that should be represented in these proceedings that may differ from the interests of their parents and the state. Even though the state has brought the action to protect the child, the voice and needs of the child may get lost in the fray of arguments and allegations between the state's lawyers, parents, and other adults that are parties to the case. Furthermore, the child needs an advocate if the state fails to deliver on necessary services and actions due to fiscal constraints and/or organizational failures.


2015, Published in Family Law Quarterly 49, no. 3, Fall (2015), by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association