On or about June 1980, under the leadership of the Honorable John Mendoza, the CASA program of Las Vegas was established with the support of the women from the Junior League of Las Vegas. The program began with approximately 15 volunteers and by the end of December 1980 had grown to approximately 40 volunteers. Judge Mendoza pursued funding from the County and by July 1980 facilitated the hiring of a CASA coordinator and secretary for the program. Judge Mendoza was also instrumental in creating the acronym CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), which was subsequently adopted by the National CASA Association.
In October 1986, with the support of the District Court Judges, a domestic relations component of the CASA volunteer concept was initiated as a pilot project. In this program, the trained CASA volunteers were utilized to safeguard the best interests of children caught in the midst of custodial disputes.
In April 1990, the Juvenile Court CASA Program and the District Court CASA Program undertook a mutually cooperative venture to expand and utilize the same group of CASA volunteers who were recruited, screened and trained to advocate for the children in both arenas. In July 1992, the programs were administratively combined to form the Clark County Family Division CASA Program, which is now known as the Eighth Judicial District Court CASA Program.
From 1980 to December 2021, the CASA Program has grown from 15 to 356 trained volunteers. The program represents nearly 1000 abused and neglected children annually. The program continues to expand and improve its services and advocacy efforts. The CASA Program is an active member in good standings with the National CASA Association.
The Nevada Legislature provides for volunteer advocacy representation for children through NRS 432B.500, which states that “the Court shall appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) after the child is found to be in need of protection and a petition is filed.” NRS 432B.505 outlines the qualifications of a special advocate appointed as a GAL. The Eighth Judicial District Court’s Rule 5.107 authorizes the appointment of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to serve in accordance with NRS 432B.500. CASA volunteers are appointed to represent and protect the best interest of the children in cases of abuse/neglect. Over 3,000 children in Clark County fall within this category. The Eighth Judicial District Court CASA Program is county funded.
The CASA Program is an innovative program which has received national recognition for its advocacy efforts on behalf of children. Utilizing the National CASA/GAL Association for Children guidelines, the CASA Program recruits, screens, trains and supervises volunteers from the local community to serve as advocates for children involved in Dependency Court. The CASA volunteer serves as the children’s voice in Court. Since its inception, the CASA Program has shifted its focus to primarily representing the best interest of abused and neglected children involved in the child welfare system, rather than children in the midst of domestic relations disputes.
The overall goal of the CASA Program is to ensure a child’s right to a safe, permanent and nurturing home through independent assessment of the case facts. The primary focus of the CASA volunteer is child’s best interest advocacy. This is clearly different from the the Children’s Attorney Project (CAP) who represent children’s legal wishes or what the children want or the Department of Family Services who represent child protection and family intervention. Each of these other agencies is bound by the multiple interests of the family as a whole or to protect the legal rights of the child. The CASA Program has the luxury of concentrating solely on the best interests of the individual child.
With a concern for community awareness and education, the CASA Program actively engages media contacts, participates in agency networking, provides presentations to civic organizations, participates at a wide array of community forums/recruitment fairs and has received numerous community recognitions, to include but not limited to: 1991 and 1994 National Association of Counties Award, a 1992 and 1994 J.C. Penny United Way Golden Rule Award, 1993 Clark County Bar Association Liberty Bell Award, and honorees at the 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2017 Nevada Volunteers Governor Points of Light. In 2011, the program received 2011 National CASA Conference People’s Choice Award in the print category.
CASA Program Administrator
Legal Office Specialist
Legal Office Specialist
Jair’a “Whitney” Vaughns