EVEN when the U.S. court system is operating at its best, the experience can be confusing and unnerving for most people.
Now, imagine how terrifying the system might be for a child who has been the victim of abuse or neglect. Parents or other caregivers might be present in a courtroom but not accessible to the child. Unfamiliar adults are asking questions, often about what may be traumatic events.
That's the reason why the Court Appointed Special Advocate program was launched locally in 1990.
CASA volunteers help children understand what's happening when someone in their family is involved in a court case. The volunteer's sole interest is the welfare of the child.
"This person has only one case, and that's all they're worrying about. It's great to have them in the child's corner," CASA manager Danielle Woodyard recently told The Herald-Whig.
After decades of making a difference for children in Adams and McDonough counties, the CASA program is being expanded into Hancock, Pike and Morgan counties with the help of a $177,317 grant announced Tuesday by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. The money came from federal funds appropriated through the Victim of Crime Act in 2016. Those funds are collected through fines levied on people convicted of federal crimes, rather than from tax dollars.
Todd Shackelford, executive director of the Advocacy Network for Children, said the agency made this year's grant request with the CASA expansion in mind.
"CASA has a track record in Adams and McDonough counties. We know the outcomes for kids with CASA. They do better in school, they find homes quicker. It helps them be good kids so they can be better adults," Shackelford said.
CASA has 63 volunteers who went through screening and training, and now serve in Adams and McDonough counties. Last year the special advocates helped more than 200 children, usually committing 10 to 12 hours each month.
Another 40 or 50 volunteers are now needed to serve children in Hancock, Pike and Morgan counties.
Here's an opportunity for anyone who wants to help children in crisis. The volunteers will work alongside attorneys and social workers, write court reports and keep courts informed about what is going on with the children. No experience is required, just a dedication to making the lives of children better.
CASA volunteers are heroes to the kids they serve -- no superhero capes or costumes needed.