CASA Minnesota

GAL news & updates

December 2023 | Issue 7 Newsletter for Volunteer Guardians ad Litem and Supporters

Shawna Bullen-Fairbanks

Foster and CASA MN Grant Recipient

My name is Shawna Bullen-Fairbanks and I spent ten years on and off in Minnesota’s Child welfare system. In that time, I experienced various placements such as group homes, foster homes, psychiatric hospitals, juvenile detention, shelters, and kinship care.

I wanted to thank you personally so much for sponsoring my position as a 2023 AllStar. When I first applied to the internship I was very anxious about how it would go, and I was feeling very much like I didn’t belong anywhere or deserve anything good. I wanted to prove myself wrong, that I deserved this and it didn’t hurt to apply, so I did and I was accepted. I was in awe of being chosen as the Minnesota AllStar and for that I’m forever grateful. I came to this internship with the intent to learn how I could facilitate and how I could learn from other states on how Minnesota could do better and bring that knowledge back to our state.

Read more of Shawna’s Letter
CASA MN sponsored Shawna to be a FosterClub All-Star Intern, a development program for fosters ages 18-24.

Program participants reframe their foster care experiences as expertise and use that expertise to advocate within child welfare and to support their peers still in care.

Shawna was awarded a six week internship: four weeks virtually and two weeks in person. Internships prepare young people for service opportunities, including professional work as changemakers impacting child welfare.

Read about All Star Internships
Did you know that anyone can request a grant?

CASA Cares provides grants to benefit the personal growth and development of foster children in the child protection system. We consider grant requests for children with active cases, for items or activities not otherwise provided for by public funds. Requests often include bikes, school supplies, dance regalia, senior pictures, prom attire, camps, sports, activities and much more. 

Grant Application
Why We Need Volunteers to Work on Behalf of Our Most Vulnerable Children

by Laurel Ferris

“I could never do what you’re doing.” Over the last 12 years, that’s what I’ve heard most often as a volunteer Hennepin County child protection Guardian ad litem (GAL), which technically means “guardian of the lawsuit.” Being a GAL means bearing witness to life’s inequities visited on the most vulnerable children.

Some of the Guardian ad litem are CASA volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates), like me. In Minnesota the appointment is mandated by federal and state law when there are findings of abuse and/or neglect of a child. A Guardian ad litem is not a legal guardian — a custodian acting as a parent — but a legal party to the case and independent advocate for the child. We ask the Court to consider what’s best for the child.

State employees direct every aspect of a family’s case — the “to do” list to repair and restore child safety. But GAL are beholden only to the child. We listen, we observe, we read everything. We hang in there with the family over a period of a year or two as they move through the system.


The volunteers I have worked with are in the second half of their lives, winding down fulfilling careers in teaching, law, and corporate jobs. There are also homemakers, and former child protection recipients, doing this work as well. It takes heart and stamina.

Monthly All Staff GAL Meetings

Monthly- first Monday 12:30-1:30pm

In-Person 4th District Office

NOTE – when date falls on a holiday check with Jamilah for new time.

Monthly GAL Legal Training

Monthly- first Friday 8:30-10:30am

Look for Zoom Meeting invite from GAL.Training

Meet Jamilah Walker

Volunteer Supervisor – 4th District

We are excited to have Jamilah as our new volunteer supervisor! We recently asked Jamilah a series of questions to help us get to know her. Please help welcome her as we begin working together!

Why have you chosen this field of work?

I have a background in Early Childhood Education and Development.  After experience in the educational system, I saw a lot of the disparities that children deal with in their private/home lives, that in turn affected their ability to be successful in school.  After being out of work for some time during the Pandemic I began working at The Bridge for Youth as a Youth and Family Advocate in the Gloria’s Place program, and I became very passionate about advocacy and case work.    

Why were you excited to take on the role of coordinating the volunteers?

I was excited to be apart of the Guardian Ad Litem program as a whole, and take on the role of coordinating the volunteers because I find their dedication to supporting children in the community very valuable and necessary. 

What are some of the volunteer strengths and opportunities you are seeing since joining?

Since joining I can see that their strengths are:

  • Passion to advocate for children
  • Initiative to train and maintain their role 
  • Commitment to create a sense of community amongst volunteers, raise awareness, and engage in the hands-on experiences necessary to complete their work (for many years) 

Opportunities are to take on more cases and support more children 

Any early opinions on priorities, improvements or changes needed that will benefit the program and the children?

My priorities right now are to:

  • Build rapport with the volunteers
  • Be a consistent support to the volunteers
  • Reconnect the volunteers to the overall GAL program; inviting to all-staff meetings, offering 1:1 meetings, team meetings 
  • Rebuild the foundation of expectations that are emerging throughout the entire program: report writing, trainings, due dates, etc.  


Has there been anyone that had a positive impact upon your career, how you do your work, how you lead, and how did they impact you? 

No one specific person, but I owe a lot to my family for always supporting me in my educational and career ventures and teaching me to work hard in whatever I do.  As well as my education from the University of Minnesota CEHD; they taught me everything I know about how best to work with, support, and understand children which instilled in me such confidence and passion in this work.  

How do you stay strong and engaged in a field that can be very tough at times?

I take good care of myself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually to be sure I can be my best when I work. 

What do you like to do for fun or what are some of your interests outside of work?

Outside of work I love to:

  • Spend time with family & friends
  • Travel when possible—especially spending time up North at cabins or in nature 
  • Workout; bike distance in the summer months, hike, and yoga 
  • Read
  • Attend/be active in my church
  • Fellowship: bringing people together and serving others  


A Storm is Brewing within the Child Protection Ecosystem

By Mike Tikkanen

Please watch this short video to learn more.

Short Video
It’s always a great time to give!

External Education Opportunities

If you would like to know more about the intersection of law, criminal justice, and behavioral health, you should check out the weekly Law and Mental Health Webinar Series offered by the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Speakers represent a variety of fields including forensic psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, public defenders, and judges. The presentations are open to everyone who would like to attend. Contact to register for the series and sign up for a listserv to stay updated on upcoming programs. 

Information about upcoming programs is available on this calendar

This program was created to meet the need for a free and accessible resource that provides consistent training in best practices in forensic mental health assessment and policy, both for trainees pursuing training as forensic mental health professionals and as continuing education for licensed clinicians who are currently in practice. The Law and Mental Health Series forms an important component of the UNM Postdoctoral Fellowship in Forensic Psychology program, and training for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences psychiatry residents and psychology interns.

An extensive library of recorded previous sessions is here.

Note: For any external training, you should check with Jamilah to ensure the topic you pursue would qualify for external training credits.

Your Commitment and Voice Matters
In the months ahead, we will continue our collaborative efforts with state program management and the MN GAL Board to lift the hold on new volunteers entering the program. With your strong performance across child visits, impactful court reports and court appearances, volunteers are showing up and achieving high scores across all key performance metrics. This bodes well for volunteers if there is an objective performance based assessment of our role.

We are continuing to pursue a legislative agenda centered on Guardian ad Litem Advocacy. Our goal is to advocate for both employees and volunteers through lower case loads for employees, a lower number of children to manage for employees, and adding more qualified, screened, and well trained volunteers. We also believe more transparency and public access to data will increase accountability and positive outcomes for children and families. All of this is done in the best interest of the children we all serve.

As always, please send me your advice and feedback as we work together to strengthen and sustain our volunteer Guardian ad Litem role.

Pass it On!

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30 Second Don Shelby KARA PSA


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)



Read the full story here

Read the rebuttals to the MAD report here; Rich GehrmanGerard Bodell, Mike Tikkanen