This post was originally published 11/22

Follow this unfolding story here monthly




Community Involvement &

Regular Visits With A Trusted Volunteer

(please share this article widely –

especially with your State Rep FIND THEM HERE)


The MN State Guardian ad Litem Board has been advocating

for diminishment/elimination of 

volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

in the Guardian Ad Litem program

and replacing volunteers with the paid staff.

KARA and other CASA volunteer supporters

think this is a  terrible idea.


Since 1981, thousands of community volunteers have donated many thousands of hours working to better the lives of Minnesota’s at-risk children.  Diminishing this program now comes at a time when it is most needed.

COVID has locked at risk children in homes for long periods over years with no access to mandated reporters or other avenues to the help they need.

Today, there are about 30 community

volunteers left in the CASA program

with an expectation that

half that number will leave 

and not be replaced next year.

For the last 40 years,

 the average number of CASA Guardian ad Litem volunteers

remained between 300 and 500.

200 volunteer applications await acceptance from the program and may never be accepted if the program is eliminated. These volunteers represent the community. They bring personal time and compassion to an often cold and industrial feeling institution.

Diminishing/Eliminating CASA volunteers will result in LESS diversity in the Guardian ad Litem program LESS community awareness, LESS institutional transparency, LESS public involvement and an incalculable loss of volunteer advocacy time spent with abused and neglected children stuck in the Child Protection System.

Child abuse takes place in the home and is invisible.

It’s a family matter.

Without a diverse and robust Child Protection System

More children will face longer periods of trauma and more abuse

and more mental health and behavior problems.

Our cultural norms leave treatment of children to parents unless abuse causes the danger of “Imminent harm” to a child. We assume the County system responds effectively to reports of child abuse to save children living in toxic homes of violence, abuse and trauma. This recent investigation by Safe Passage For Children of Minnesota proves otherwise (read pages 19 – 32 to see why).

Those of us in the Child Protection System know how often these assumptions are wrong. We know how the system struggles to keep children safe and that we have limited resources to save and mend broken children. We know how parental child abuse causes lifelong trauma and mental health issues that never disappear if left untreated.

We also know how painful life is for abused and neglected children and how overwhelmed our systems are for keeping kids safe.

Keeping the CASA volunteer Guardian ad Litem Program is an effectivel program

making  life better for the most vulnerable citizens in our community.

Imagine being a child in Child Protection and waking up as a five or ten year old in a group or foster home. You don’t know anyone. Nothing in the home is familiar to you. The adults in your life come and go. Community volunteer guardian ad litems (CASA’s) become a known and trusted adult in your journey through the system that has removed you from the only home you have ever known. In fairness, this author has been a guardian ad litem volunteer and CASAMN board member since 1996. I know the value of a familiar and trusted volunteer spending time with frightened & traumatized children.

Program Management arguments for diminishing/ending

the CASA Volunteer program;

  • Certain Key Performance Efficiency Indicators (KPI metrics) favor staff performance and a professional workforce over volunteers.
  • High-cost of the CASA program management – and there is no money for it.

Point One is partially true, but the reasoning is questionable and addressable. Managing Volunteer program GALs has been underserved for years. Volunteer guardians need to be managed differently than paid staff GALs. It is only recently that a Volunteer coordinator has been assigned for management. It should be noted that paid staff has had (and is still having) problems meeting standards also.

Training for both groups is the same. Volunteers and staff are equally professional

arguably, volunteers come to the GAL program from professional fields &

with greater life experience than staff hired at $21/hr

in a market with the lowest unemployment in decades is making it extremely difficult to hire qualified help.

Because this is not easy work and not suitable for many people

& volunteers are a great resource for this troubled system

Today, passionate and qualified volunteers that represent the community have been waiting

for almost two years to be accepted into the program.

Point Two is questionable at best. This author assumes case management and efficiency are being valued over child outcomes. Because new management sees additional work to make a moderate transition from a volunteer workforce to a fully paid staff, they see volunteers as a burden with no additional value to the child or the program. CASA MN directors have been told directly that in person child visits are a negative, not a positive in the lives of children in the system. We disagree strongly. Trained and qualified CASA volunteers have the time to spend with their caseload children. This softens the experience of moving through the cold and lonesome experience of Courts and Child Protective Services at the most traumatic time in a child’s life.

Key Performance Indicators being used in this decision have little to do with actual child outcomes. Current KPI’s almost completely value the efficiency of checked boxes indicating employee efficiency, reports, and cost containment at the cost of measuring outcomes and child friendly concerns.

If KPI’s concentrated on data concerning successes and failures of programs and children in the system, the public would be more supportive of child friendly initiatives and legislators could make better decisions about improving this troubled system. The wrong metrics demonstrate and efficient system doing what it is chartered to do. The right metrics would likely demonstrate and institution creating what it was designed to stop. Teen and preteen pregnancies, juvenile justice cases and 14 year olds are being tried as adults. If this were tracked and reported regularly, it would point to where improvements need to be made.

Over 40 years, this Minnesota program has included about 10,000 community volunteers. The program began with all volunteers has shifted from including paid staff in the management and strategy of volunteers to including volunteers in the management strategy of paid staff.

In our initial conversations with GAL Program Manager Vic Walker, we (CASAMN BOARD) discovered that management had been demanding Volunteers take as many cases as paid staff (30 cases). This has never been the CASA volunteer model or does it appear in any of the other 900+ CASA programs in the U.S.

Demanding high caseloads destroys the core concept of volunteers having much more time available to work with each case child adds a personal touch and is a big reason the program has been so successful. Time spent with children caught up in the courts and CPS brings humanity and sunlight into a closed system and is a big benefit to the child and our overwhelmed system.

Demanding high caseloads puts a crushing load on volunteers committed to helping at risk kids in their community (but not 100 + children at one time). By definition, volunteer GALs invest significantly more personal time and attention to their caseload kids than paid staff are able.

Paid GAL staff are required to oversee up to 30 cases representing 100 – 150 children to be kept safe every month.

(3.9 is the average number of children in each Hennepin County case at this time).

Some administrators and legislators believe 100+ abused and neglected children can be well served by one child advocate. KARA & CASAMN do not agree. About half of a caseworkers time is spent writing reports and office requirements leaving little time to be spent with children. We believe children and youth unfortunate enough to end up in Child Protective Services need more help from the community not less.

Program management has stated that CASA volunteer time spent with children to be of no value. Ask that question of any child passing through the cold institution of judges, courts, foster and group homes where you don’t know anyone and new adults come and go in your life with regularity. Some of my case kids were with me for 12 years.

Plenty of data Stories and literature provide proof that a trusted adult makes a huge difference in the life of a child that has been unfortunate enough to grow up in a toxic home. Foster children are taken from the only home they’ve ever known and the adults in their lives often disappear.


It is because Volunteer CASA GAL’s take only a few cases that they can invest significant time and energy their case children. Abused and neglected children need more time with familiar trusted adults that volunteer to be their advocates. CASA volunteers do this work because they have the time to invest in their community’s children and a commitment to do it.

There is great value to the additional time and energy volunteers bring to the program. 

We must use caution if we choose efficiency over quality of care. We should strive for both.


Point Two, the financial argument, could be determined by a cost benefit analysis.  Cost/value also needs to be understood in a broader context that includes former CASA volunteer Denise Graves spending millions of her own dollars to build housing for youth aging out of foster care and the hundreds of other CASA volunteers that go on to do more for State Ward Children after leaving the program.

This 40-year-old volunteer program has become (by accident or design) the less favored stepchild of the only recently fully funded staff GAL program.

Volunteer CASA’s require a modified approach to hiring and supervision. GAL training is the same, but managing volunteers is different than managing paid staff. It is because these recently made available large State dollars allowing for growing paid staff that management’s path of least resistance is to manage paid staff.

To not execute a cost benefit analysis before ending an effective and established program that has been saving MN children and youth for 40 years is a powerful example of terrible public policy allowed to happen without public awareness or input.

  • CASAMN has only been informed of these issues and allowed to enter the discussion this past year. We empathize with management as metrics are a priority and one more demanding thing on their plate in these times makes things harder.
  • CASAMN has offered to be involved in (financially and administratively) to facilitate oversight and needed resources. CASAMN is offering to help with recruitment and oversight/training.
  • The lack of transparency (of system results like graduation rates, crime, poverty & homelessness of State Ward children) make fiscal arguments tenuous at best. The financial argument being made by program management implicitly undervalues community involvement, volunteer time and resources and greater public awareness.
  • The cost to our community of underserving these children can be seen in the violence reported in our media, school underperformance and racial disparity.
  • in Hennepin County most recently testing showed that;

  • 24% of Black third graders are reading at grade level and

  • 10% were performing at grade level in math.

  • These statistics indicate the growing problem of

  • system failures that are resulting in

  • racial disparities, child abuse and system failures in our state. 

*There is value in an involved community with greater awareness of complex and otherwise invisible issues that are impacting their public schools, health, and safety. Uninvolved communities do not see the problem. If there is no perceived problem, there is no need for a solution. Volunteers bring in the community, they reflect the community, and they give us the best opportunity to grow diversity.  One of the most significant concerns currently in the community is that the State is removing African American children from their parents at a rate higher than that of white families. The volunteer program allows the State to address that issue by bringing in real people from the community. Relying on paid “experts” to a greater extent by eliminating volunteers will not increase trust and confidence in the system.

*Eliminating volunteers in the GAL program removes one of the only personal, community elements from MN”s child protection system. Abused children in the system feel isolated and institutionalized. State Ward children live in foster and group homes. Their lives are managed by paid for staff and the courts. The turnover of adults in their lives is a constant factor that make them feel like a “thing” being handled at the State level.

*Child Protective Services, like schools, healthcare and law enforcement, have been and are over-stressed by the COVID pandemic. Our communities today have more and bigger problems providing adequate services than I have seen in my lifetime.

*Children locked into toxic homes for longer periods with less access to mandated reporters (like teachers) are suffering more than they were pre-COVID. The impact the lockdown is having on at-risk children and families is not transparent and it is under-reported. During COVID, the severity and frequency of child abuse has increased appreciably.

This argument is about better managing resources we spent decades building and have today – not how eliminating effective programs can make management operate with less stress. To change the negative stories and statistics that represent at risk State Ward children in MN we need to do more of what works, not less. Less in not more.

Volunteer CASA advocates are often told by their caseload children that; “you are the only person in my life not paid to be with me”. State Ward children have a very different view of the world they are living in than other children.

Children caught up in machine like institutions appreciate that this volunteer person and the larger community are trying to make my life better. This program adds a touch of community and humanity to the institution of Child Protective Services. It’s hard for staff workers assigned 100+ children to make the same meaningful connections when they have one hundred children plus the travel, reporting and court time for each child each month.

Abused and traumatized children caught up in MN’s Child Protection system have always needed more help than our institutions can provide. It is not the failure of the people involved, but the complexity of the issues and lack of community / legislative understanding required to adapt to the realities of child abuse and trauma. We may never solve the underlying problems of generational child abuse or have the support of citizens and legislators to provide the necessary people and resources to save these children.

Removing CASA GAL community involvement from the neediest children in the system is a colossal mistake that will resonate for years to come.

What happens when paid staff funding is reduced in times of recession? (as revenue cycles  occur).

Will paid staff be required to oversee 200+ abused and neglected children each month?

Not long ago, 4 MN Counties screened out 90% of child abuse cases &

forbid social workers from investigating

prior histories of child abuse in the review of new cases.

8 years ago, Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed that 4-year-old Eric Dean’s tortured death at the hands of his mother after 14 largely ignored reports of abuse, was a “colossal failure” of CPS. Not long after, 6-year-old Kendrea Johnson successfully died by hanging in her foster home. Her grandmom sued the State over CPS failures and was awarded 1.5 million dollars for system failure.

The Star Tribune has reported on dozens of high-profile tragic child abuse. Only the very worst make the paper. Thousands of voiceless children suffer invisibly because our systems are being taxed for money and personnel. COVID is making this even harder for all involved.

There may never be a perfect system for keeping abused and neglected children safe in their homes. But we can agree that children need to have advocates and the resources we are able to provide.

We are not diminishing paid staff GAL contributions. They are critical in the system and the lives of these children. We are saying; “Less is not more”.

Paid staff managing 100 + children a month is a necessity of overwhelmed systems trying to keep up with the growing problem of generational child abuse and increased childhood trauma our communities are experiencing.

Volunteers provide community awareness and personal time and energy of a committed volunteer that a paid staffer simply can’t provide.

Lastly, besides contributing as child advocates in court, a significant percentage of CASA volunteers (retired and active) have gone on to address the needs of at-risk children with their time, energy and money. Over almost 40 years, this has been a great contribution to our community. Former CASA volunteer Denise Graves has spent millions of her own dollars providing housing for youth aging out of foster care. Hundreds if not thousands of current and former guardians have contributed their time and treasure to make life better for abused and neglected children.

These benefits to children and the community can occur only as more and more people become aware of child abuse, the impact of childhood trauma and the needs of the children involved. The CASA volunteer program goes a long way towards educating the public to the issues we are addressing here.

Losing the benefits of community awareness & support will end with the elimination of our volunteer CASA program.  This will be a huge loss to Minnesota children and the communities they live in.

Eliminating the CASA GAL program will reduce community awareness and community contribution as well as a more personalized child advocacy being provided to Minnesota’s abused and neglected State Ward Children. Lastly, trust in all our institutions suffers from too little transparency and community involvement. 

LESS IN NOT MORE for children in Child Protective Services.



Please forward this post to your State Representative (look up your representative here)

Links to;

Part 1

Part 2 

Part 3

Part 4


Mike Tikkanen speaks about child abuse/trauma/healing and community

at schools, colleges, workplaces, events, etc.; To learn more:

send an email to with SPEAKING in the subject line. 

Mike’s INVISIBLE CHILDREN book can be read and listened to (for free)here.

  • Sign up for KARA’s Free Friday morning E-Newsletter
  • subscribe to new chapters of AMERICA’S CHILDREN IN 100 CHARTS here.
  • Mike is A KARA founder/Executive Director and founding board member at CASAMN.

Contact your State Rep and share your views

Find Your State Rep Here


#Courtappointedspecialadvocate, #childwelfare, #childprotection

Improved Community Awareness and Involvement 10
Significantly More Time For Children In Their Caseload 10
More Diverse Population of Volunteers (40 of 200 waiting applicants are BIPOC community members) 10
Ongoing Advocacy, Efforts and Investments by Retired Volunteers That Continue Supporting Abused Children After Leaving the Program 9
Appreciation by the Child For Their Only Volunteer in the System 8
Additional Qualified and Trained Staff that Have Come Through the Volunteer Program (a forever pool to hire from) 9
CASAMN Foundation dollars for nonprofit support programs 8
Less is Not More For Traumatized Children With Great Needs 10
The Potential of More Data transparency (useful metrics and information) 9
Improved System Accountability 7
Less Reliant on County Funding (CASAMN Support) 5
Volunteer Hiring, Training and Oversight by CASAMN 6
CASA’s Often the Single Long Term Trusted Adult In the System (most other adults come and go in Child Protection) 9 9


There are many forces at play on Child Protective Services today:

Parental rights, Racial disparities,

better tracking and reporting of

critical child outcomes based metrics in CPS

and the continued over-institutionalizing

of children in the system

(dehumanizing trends)

KARA reports on the issues of invisible children

This article submitted by Former CASA Guardian Ad Litem Mike Tikkanen

Signup For KARA’s FREE Friday Morning Updates

All Adults Are the Protectors of All Children


“What we do to our children, they will do to our society”

(Pliny the Elder, 2000 years ago)

Contact your State Rep and share your views

Find Your State Rep Here