OLR Bill Analysis

sSB 347 (File 630, as amended by Senate "A")*

AN ACT ESTABLISHING A PROGRAM FOR COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES IN CERTAIN JUVENILE COURT MATTERS.

SUMMARY:

This bill requires the Judicial Department, within available resources, to establish a court appointed special advocate program to provide assistance in neglect, abuse, custody, guardianship, or family with service needs proceedings in juvenile court.

Under the bill, a "court appointed special advocate" (CASA) is a volunteer recruited, screened, trained, and supervised by a local CASA program affiliated with the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association (NCASAA).

The bill requires the chief court administrator within the Superior Court for juvenile matters to administer the program. A party may ask the court to appoint a CASA, or the court may do so on its own motion. Under the program, a CASA:

1. may serve as a resource to the court in determining and furthering the best interests of a child (under age 18);

2. is not allowed to replace or interfere with the child's counsel or guardian ad litem (GAL) (see BACKGROUND);

3. has access to certain records upon the court's appointment and after obtaining any required releases;

4. has qualified immunity when acting in good faith and within the scope of the court's appointment;

5. must submit to certain background checks;

6. is prohibited from charging any fees for services he or she provides in the program; and

7. may, in appropriate cases as determined by the court, undertake activities in the child's best interests, until the child reaches age 21.

*Senate Amendment “A” removes the underlying bill's requirement that a CASA successfully complete the Judicial Department's comprehensive GAL training program.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2016

CASA

Access to Records

Upon appointment by the court and after obtaining any required releases to access records, a CASA must have access to (1) any party to the proceeding and (2) all relevant information or records, such as school, child care, medical, mental health, and court records and records maintained by DCF.

Scope of Services

A CASA (1) may conduct an independent investigation of the facts associated with the filing of a petition and (2) must undertake and facilitate activities to further the child's best interests, including making recommendations to the court.

Background Check

Under the bill, NCASAA or any affiliated Connecticut program, before accepting anyone to serve as a CASA, must require such person to submit to a check of the (1) state and national criminal history records and (2) state child abuse and neglect registry.

The bill prohibits the Judicial Department from accepting, into its CASA program, anyone who refuses to consent to or cooperate in the processing of the required background checks.

Immunity from Civil and Criminal Liability

CASAs who act in good faith and within the scope of the court's appointment have qualified, rather than total, immunity for their actions. They may only be civilly or criminally liable if their acts or omissions constitute intentional, willful, or wanton misconduct. The same is true for staff members affiliated with NCASAA who act within the scope of their employment

BACKGROUND

NCASAA

NCASAA is a national organization that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children to provide them with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.

GALs

By law, a GAL is someone, not necessarily an attorney, the court appoints during certain proceedings to gather information and report on what he or she believes is in a person's best interest. GALs must undergo training before being appointed. The training runs for more than three full days in juvenile court and focuses on child protection. GALs are required to complete six hours of continuing education each year.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

42

Nay

0

(03/28/2016)