What should leadership look like in Child Protective Services? 

What should leadership look like in Child Protective Services?

The CASA guardian ad Litem volunteer program motto is “For the Child”. The heart and soul of the CASA program is to give voice to the child in the institution of Child Protective Services (CPS).

Being removed from a birth home because of abuse, trauma, and imminent harm is one of the scariest and most painful things that can happen to a child. It can’t help but add to the trauma of abuse these children are living with.

Many of these children have suffered torture and life-threatening experiences in their birth homes. Most children reported to CPS have been abused for years.

The CASA program was meant to soften some of the harsh edges of CPS. A court system by nature, has hard edges and puts children into the machinery of a judicial system.

What does this mean to Leaders of the state GAL program?

In January, MN GAL State Board voted not to end the volunteer GAL program and a new Board member, Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, was appointed to the Board.  In February, that Board voted in Ann Ahlstrom as their new Board Chair following Crysta Parkin stepping down from the role.  Ms. Ahlstrom has stated that she will lead by doing what’s best for the child and that she supports utilizing both employee and volunteer GALs. Given all of these recent events, there is reason to be grateful and hopeful that our MN GAL Board now appears positioned to provide strong and effective leadership over the program.

How does the MN GAL Board transform program management?

Do we want management that values efficiency over outcomes or that sees the value in providing services that increase the probability of long-term success of the child?

To make success happen for children requires people able to work within a rigid system but willing to test the boundaries of what your office can achieve for the children in this highly regulated and bureaucratic system.

These are children, not widgets and to achieve metrics that give signs of child success in the system is far more important than the metrics of efficiency of management and staff performance (current history). Current management is focused on building large numbers of case managers operating more like project managers and looking more like over worked social workers.

For forty years, The CASA guardian ad Litem volunteer program has given a powerful voice to children in the system. During those years those years, former GAL leaders Suzanne Smith and Laurie Kusek grew and managed this effective and humane part of a struggling Child Protection System. They deserve our sincere thanks and appreciation.

Of course there needs to be strong, effective, and equal training, supervision and accountability over volunteers and employees.  Staff and volunteers have always been trained the same and provide the same service to the children they work with. The key difference between staff and volunteers today is that paid staff can be assigned 30 cases each and volunteers average 3 cases each.

Employee GALs in Hennepin County can have 50 children (or more) to keep safe based upon their high caseloads. Think about this, a volunteer has plenty of time to in person visit each child while staff must scramble to oversee large caseloads. No wonder staff burnout and turnover is at record high levels. Keep in mind that caseloads are growing and budgets will not be fully funded forever and finding employees gets harder every year in our shrinking labor market. Predicted shrinking future budgets will mean more cases and children per staffer not less.

Today, there are 22 volunteer CASA Guardians ad Litem left covering Hennepin County. Few of them are happy about how they have been treated. There is considerable reporting of dissatisfaction among paid staff also. 

Current GAL management has spent over four years eliminating volunteers (with questionable tactics) in managements drive for efficiency. Disturbing volunteer and employee stories continue to be reported.

Thank you, Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz and the State Guardian ad Litem Board, for interrupting management’s efforts to end the CASA volunteer GAL program in Minnesota.

This CASA volunteer is asking you to start the transformation of the GAL management team so that they are “For the Child” and lead them to construct a best practices approach to coordinating the time and passion volunteers and staff together can bring to the scary and painful world children endure while in the Child Protection System.

2023 Investigative Report on MN Children Killed
by Caregivers While in (CPS)

Less is not more for children
in Child Protective Services

Recent reporting by KSTP, the Star Tribune and the (Safe Passage) Investigative Report on Children Murdered by Caregivers while in Child Protective Services suggest directors and administrators need to raise their level of performance and show they are “For the Child”.

Free Friday Morning KARA updates

This article submitted by Former CASA Guardian Ad Litem Mike Tikkanen

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)


(They make a big difference in the lives of abused children)