Written by: Olivia Forgette
The services offered by Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of McHenry County help countless children in our local region who need support. Children in the foster care system, or children who come from difficult backgrounds are often lost through the cracks; but CASA ensures this doesn’t happen. Every child matters.
We spoke with the Executive Director at CASA of McHenry County, Becky Morris, to get insight into the organization and what their mission is, as well as how you can volunteer to become an advocate for a child in need.
In 2020, a total of over 407,000 children were part of the foster care system in the United States. These children are assigned a case worker, who often is overloaded with cases and simply cannot give the special care and attention that each individual child requires. This is where Court Appointed Special Advocates come into play.
Who is CASA of McHenry County?
Morris said the mission of CASA of McHenry County is to support and protect kids who have been abused and neglected by providing them with a trained volunteer who can advocate for their best interest. CASA of McHenry County has a vision that every child deserves to live in a safe, loving, forever home. The organizations core value is to operate with passion through action.
What services does CASA of McHenry County offer?
According to Morris, the organizations main service is providing advocates for kids in need. She stated that CASA of McHenry County attempts to fill the wide gap that is in the broken child welfare system in our country.
[For example] “A case worker may have 40 cases and they are supposed to know everything about each child. Our advocates have just one case which allows for focus,” Morris stated. “Almost always, the CASA knows those kids far better than anyone else involved including the judge and the case worker,” she finished.
Beyond providing advocates for children, CASA of McHenry County also offers other services to help children have a normal sense of childhood. Other services provided include:
- Christmas gift drive
- Providing books for kids to read with their CASA
- CASA bags which contain activities and games for the kids
- Toys provided for birthdays
- Easter baskets offered
- Scholarships for children to be able to participate in extracurricular activities
“Above all, [CASA of McHenry County] provides the children with a lasting relationship through our advocacy program,” Morris said.
For kids in foster care or coming from challenging backgrounds, CASA of McHenry County has certainly made an impact. According to Morris, the return home goal is always one that advocates strive for, as long as home is a safe place.
Becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate means you can provide the judge with specific information that otherwise would not be known by the court. The CASA report is the first document the judge reads when reviewing the case for the children affected.
A CASA is someone who’s focus is solely the children, while case workers and lawyers typically put focus on parent progress. The CASA is also a steady person in the child’s life, as opposed to case workers who have a large turnover rate.
As a Court Appointed Special Advocate, the volunteers commit to the entirety of the case, which means they are often the one and only consistent adult to build trust with the child.
As of January 2022, CASA has become such an important part to the foster care system, that it is now mandatory to be assigned one in Illinois.
It’s known that children who are offered a CASA are:
- More likely to graduate from high school
- Less likely to be part of a teenage pregnancy
- Less likely to be incarcerated
Volunteering to become and advocate
According to Morris, there is a need for more volunteers in McHenry County. To become an advocate, the best place to start is by attending a monthly virtual information Zoom session. This is where you can fully understand the commitment it is to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate for a child in need. Next steps are as follows:
- Fill out an application
- Complete an interview process
- Carry out a background check
- Accomplish 40-hours of provided training
If you choose to volunteer, know that you will also be assigned an advocate manager who is there to support you in any questions or concerns you may have.
Don’t feel quite ready to commit to becoming an advocate? You can also make a donation to the organization to help with their programs.
Maureen Forgette acts as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and mentioned how fulfilling and rewarding the work is. “Out of all the volunteer work I’ve ever done in my life, CASA has been the most rewarding. I feel I’ve made the biggest difference in someone’s life through being an advocate. [Being a Court Appointed Special Advocate] allows you to directly see the impact you can make.”
Morris said, “It’s really easy to look at the broken system and all these kids going through trauma and feel discouraged. But our volunteers looked at [the fractured system] and realized they can make an impact in at least one kids life.” She continued, “You can make their situation just a little bit better. You can change a child’s life.”