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What is the Difference between a GAL and a CASA?

The role of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and that of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) are so similar that they can almost seem indistinguishable. One might question why a CASA volunteer is needed when a GAL is already representing the best interests of the child. In this week’s blog post, we are breaking down the difference between a GAL and a CASA volunteer, and why CASA volunteers are so vital so abuse and neglect cases.


How are CASAs and GALs similar?

Both CASA volunteers and GALs are appointed by the court to recommend solutions that are in the best interest of the child. They are both tasked with investigating the case and reporting back to the court. 

How do CASAs and GALs differ?

One of the main differences between GALs and CASAs is that the GAL is a paid position, while CASAs are trained volunteers. GALs work with a variety of family law cases, but CASAs are only assigned to abuse or neglect cases in the DC Family Court. In DC, GALs are attorneys who are appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interest. CASA volunteers come from all walks of life and careers and are often employed full-time. CASA volunteers donate at least 15 hours a month to a youth in a mentor-like relationship and use this relationship as a foundation for advocacy; reporting to the court about their  assessments and recommendations. CASA volunteers submit their recommendations through a written court report at every hearing, where GALs are not required to do so.

The GAL’s responsibility is primarily legal in nature, meaning that along with their legal duty to investigate a case, they also act as counsel. In this capacity they may make objections, file motions, provide evidence and participate in trials.  It is the GAL’s responsibility to ensure that the court has all the relevant facts and opinions at all hearings and stages of proceedings. 

While they both assess a case, CASA volunteers and GALs do so in different ways. GALs primarily use interviews and reports from other professionals, including teachers, social workers, and therapists to guide their recommendations.A CASA volunteer does have access to and utilizes such reports but the relationship built by a CASA and a youth is the guiding factor in a CASA volunteer’s recommendations to the court. The GAL is also charged with building a trusting relationship with the child, but they  are required to visit with the child once every 3 months whereas CASA volunteers see the child twice a month. Spending such a significant amount of time with the youth allows CASA volunteers to earn a child’s trust and understand the intricacies of the case in order to make the best recommendation. The relationship formed also provides for the opportunity to engage in a variety of positive experiences that promote growth and personal development for the youth.

Another area of differentiation is that CASAs only work with one case or sibling group at a time, whereas GALs may have a caseload of 30 or more cases at any given time. Studies have shown that foster youth with a CASA fare better than those without. This is in part due to the one-on-one model of the CASA program and the time and attention that the CASA volunteer is able to spend on one child.

CASA for Children of DC was born from a desire to provide DC foster care children with a consistent adult in what can easily become a whirlwind of attorneys, social workers and related professionals. A CASA volunteer can have a life-changing impact on a youth in foster care. To find out more about becoming a CASA volunteer, please visit our Volunteer page or email

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