Children involved in court cases in Grundy County will now have an advocate on their side.
In December, the first volunteer for the newly formed CASA of River Valley, which will service Grundy County children, was sworn in during a special ceremony at the Grundy County Courthouse.
CASA stands for “Court Appointed Special Advocates,” a national children’s advocacy program comprised of volunteers who become court officers, working with judges in cases involving abused or neglected children.
Rita Facchina, executive director of CASA of Will County, said the newly formed CASA of River Valley will fill an important need in Grundy.
“We looked at this area for years and had observed that there wasn’t a CASA program in this area,” Facchina said. “Now that we’ve established our program in Will County, we thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to help the kids of Grundy County, as well.”
Facchina said in Will County, there are about 110 CASA volunteers. While Grundy County is smaller, there is still plenty of need to fill, she added.
“We anticipate that there are approximately 20 kids in need in Grundy County, so over the next few years we anticipate to fill that need,” she said.
Facchina said volunteers with CASA of River Valley will fulfill the mission of CASA – court advocacy for children in need.
“Children who have been abused and neglected, we understand after we established ourselves in Will County the importance that these kids have one constant in their life to help them navigate the juvenile court system so that they can find their forever and safe home,” Facchina said. “Every child has the right to live in a safe and permanent environment. So, as we have established ourselves in Will County, we thought this was an opportunity to help more children in the state of Illinois find the same permanency.”
CASA’s first volunteer in Grundy County, Amy, was sworn in on Dec. 19. Amy said for her, volunteering was all about giving children a chance.
“Everyone has a why. Mine is the children, they need someone who can look out for them and be their voice,” she said.
In order to become an advocate, a volunteer must be at least 25 years of age, pass a background check and attend 30 hours of training over the course of two weeks. Training sessions take place in January, April, July and October, according to CASA of River Valley. The organization asks volunteers to commit to two years of service.
Advocates must occasionally attend some of the court hearings related to their case. Advocates generally are only assigned to one case at a time, although one case could involve multiple siblings.
As of Jan. 2, information on how to volunteer can be found on the website, www.casaofrivervalley.org.
The roots of CASA trace to 1976, when Seattle juvenile court judge David W. Soukup had insufficient information to make a life-changing decision for a 3-year-old girl who had suffered abuse.
That’s where the idea began: To provide trained volunteers in court for children who had experienced abuse or neglect, to speak up for their best interests.
Judge Soukup started the first CASA in Seattle in 1977, and the program expanded nationally by 1982.
The expansion of CASA into Grundy County was made possible in part by a $20,000 donation from the Community Foundation of Grundy County, Gerald D. Abel Endowment.
*Editor’s note — the full names of CASA volunteers are not made available to the public.