‘Hands Across Illinois’ voices importance of protecting children before, during, and after pandemic

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ILLINOIS (WMBD) — More than 7,000 children are being advocated for by Illinois CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) advised through programs and volunteers.

Over a Zoom call Wednesday, leaders from CASA celebrated ‘Hands Across Illinois.’

They discussed the steps the organization is taking to make sure kids are still being cared for and volunteers are being kept safe.

CASA Illinois’ Executive Director says they’re buying masks for both the children and their volunteers to keep them safe from COVID-19.

“After the shutdown, we all anticipate the number of youth in care are going to increase. We’ve heard everything from five percent to fifteen percent,” said Mari Christopherson.

The call had CASA leaders, judges, and the Acting Director of DCFS, who wanted to remind people of the importance of caseworkers before, during, and after the Pandemic

“There are countless heroes in this fight against child abuse. Among child protection investigators, caseworkers, residential providers. We also must acknowledge the volunteers who every day continue to join us in protecting children from abuse and neglect,” said Marc Smith.

“We have families that are under incredible stress,”Kim King of Illinois CASA said. “Families are worried about money, they’re worried about where to get food, what happens if they get sick.”

King says the COVID-19 Pandemic has increased the amount of stress, but says that case workers and mandated reporters are still working to keep children safe.

“April is Child Abuse and Neglect month. With everyone learning a new “normal” with COVID 19, so have those in the foster care and advocacy organizations. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of the Tenth Judicial Circuit works to be the voice of the child in the abuse and neglect courtroom,” a CASA statement reads. “At this time, we cannot go in the homes (foster homes or parent homes) of appointed children to make sure they are safe, and that their best interest is maintained because of this pandemic. CASA Supervisors and CASA Volunteers work from home and make calls and video chats and do everything they can to keep open communication with all parties involved in the lives of the children.  We also talk to the children every week, but it can be hard for an adult to keep the interest of a 5 or 6-year-old on the phone.”

“We wanted to share with you the ingenuity of one of our amazing CASA Volunteers, Elyse Wiley, to communicate with her CASA children! She sent a video of herself reading Jimmy Kimmel’s book to her CASA kiddos, ages 5, 4 and 1! They loved it! Watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=it6GG9wqThc&feature=youtu.be,” the statement continues.

CASA of the Tenth Judicial Circuit has a small staff of less than 15, but leaders say they currently serve 634 children and that is only 1/3 of the children in our five-county area that need a voice in court. 

“We are CASA staff and CASA volunteers who have a passion to ensure the safety, permanency and advocacy of these children,” the statement says.

For more information about being a CASA Volunteer visit our website at www.casaofthetenth.org or email casa@peoriacounty.org .

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