A Strong Legacy of Helping Children in Need
The Fairfax Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program was founded in 1989 by a group of community-minded Fairfax County citizens responding to a request for a CASA program from the Fairfax County Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court (Court). Since that time, Fairfax CASA has operated as a 501(c)(3) public charity accepting support from individuals, corporations, and public funds to ensure that children who are victims of abuse and neglect are placed in safe and permanent homes as quickly as possible. This purpose is accomplished by recruiting, training, and supervising community volunteers to serve as special advocates for children who have been found to be abused or neglected by the Court. The driving goal of Fairfax CASA is to ensure that the best interests of every child referred by a judge to our office are presented to the Court. Since its founding, Fairfax CASA has recruited and trained over 1,700 CASA volunteers to provide this critical service to more than 6,700 children who have been referred by the Court.
The model for Fairfax CASA originated in Seattle, Washington where, in 1977, a Superior Court Judge, David Soukup, developed a pilot program for volunteer advocates, named Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, who would be trained to serve as the “eyes and ears” of the judge in the environments and circumstances of abused and neglected children and to serve as the voice for each child in Court. Judge Soukup’s vision arose from his concern that he was responsible for making life-changing decisions on behalf of extremely vulnerable children without enough background information and evidence to support the best interest of each child. So successful was his pilot program that, after the passage of the U.S. Congress Victims of Child Abuse Act in 1990, the CASA model rapidly spread throughout the country and today there are close to 1,000 local CASA programs nationwide with a corps of 70,000 plus men and women serving as CASA volunteers. Virginia CASA programs are established by state statute [§§ 9.1-151 through 9.1-157] under which Fairfax CASA serves the largest juvenile court in the Commonwealth.
Judge Jane Delbridge led the mission to bring CASA to Fairfax in 1989
Over three decades ago, Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Jane Delbridge attended a conference of District Attorneys and Judges, where she was introduced to CASA. Here is The Honorable Judge Delbridge in her own words recalling the birth of Fairfax CASA:
“I had been on the bench long enough to recognize immediately the vast majority of children in most cases involving alleged parental negligence and/or abuse would benefit by the appointment of a dedicated, trained, and hopefully not over-worked volunteer, who would be a neutral spokesperson. I was excited about the possibilities of better-informed cases and better outcomes for the children by starting the CASA organization.”
Judge Delbridge recruited Carole Coile, a dedicated Fairfax attorney, to collaborate with Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN), Alexandria’s CASA program, to create Fairfax CASA. They shared the conviction that CASA would help the Courts not separate, but see to the repair of families, when possible. With help from fellow court professionals such as the Fairfax Director of Court Services Vince Pichcano and other dedicated and passionate community members, Fairfax CASA was officially assigned our first case in January of 1990.
We are grateful to these visionaries who believed in the mission of CASA and ensured that our most vulnerable children are seen and heard.