A national children’s advocacy program is coming to Grundy County, and organizers are seeking members of the public to take part and make a difference.
The Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as CASA, for Children of River Valley are looking for volunteers in and around Grundy County as part of this year’s expansion into the area. This need was expressed at a presentation Nov. 5 held by the nonprofit at the First Presbyterian Church of Morris.
Volunteers who take up the call would become court officers in the Juvenile Court of Grundy County, charged with being the eyes and ears for judges in cases involving abused or neglected children.
“Our goal is not to break families up and we are not involved in any investigations prior to being assigned to a case,” program director Denice Barren said. “We help to ensure that every child assigned to us lives in a safe and permanent home. The child comes first, but we also support the family by helping to get them all the resources they need to provide that safe environment.”
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 are held in January, April, July and October. The organization asks volunteers to commit to two years of service.
“Once on a case, an advocate must check in with the child and family in person for at least one hour per month, check in with the child’s school to monitor their progress, interview everyone involved in the child’s care and provide documentation of the child’s well being to the court along with reccomendations,” Barren said.
Barren also said 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.
“This job isn’t for everybody. It involves having difficult and frank conversations about subjects a lot of people aren’t accustomed to addressing,” Barren said. “Yet for those who have the capacity, you can have a real, positive impact on the lives of these children and their families.”
This chapter of CASA For Children recently rebranded into CASA of River Valley to illustrate their expansion into Grundy. Before 2019, they only served Will County.
Executive director Rita Facchina said that after 25 years of experience serving Will County, they were ready to serve a larger area.
“We’ve learned a lot over the past 25 years and we’re so excited to share that experience with Grundy County,” Facchina said. “We’ve always wanted to expand. We just needed to make sure we were ready.”
According to Facchina, CASA for Children was founded in 1982 and currently has 962 programs nation wide. She said the first program started when a judge in Seattle couldn’t decide child neglect and abuse cases efficiently.
“[The Judge] decided that he needed volunteers to check in on families and get the information he was lacking,” Facchina said.
The move into Grundy was supported by a grant from the Community Foundation of Grundy County.
At the end of the metting, Facchina said although CASA has been
approved by the Department of Child and Family Services to operate in Grundy County, the expansion is still contingent upon the signatures of Grundy’s three judges along with Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland.
Once they collect all the signatures, she said, they could begin. She had the paperwork with her during the presentation.
Judge Robert Marsaglia was among those in attendance.
“I’ll sign right now,” Marsaglia said.