Children in court system need advocates

SYCAMORE – CASA DeKalb County is looking for volunteers to be the voice of children in local courtrooms.

The Court-Appointed Special Advocate program is a free service that provides guardians and advocates for the child’s best interest in a court case, said Jill Olson, executive director of CASA DeKalb County.

“Our goal: A child has a safe and permanent home, preferably with their parents but if not ... adopted into a family,” Olson said.

Other than being at least 24 years old and passing a background check, there are no other requirements a person must meet if they want to volunteer, Olson said. Volunteers go through a 30-hour training program. Once completed, they are sworn in by a circuit court judge and assigned one case.

“We have the ability to focus our attention on one case at a time,” Olson said, comparing a CASA volunteer’s workload with the responsibilities of a case worker from the Department of Children and Family Services.

Another difference between CASA and DCFS is its focus. While a DCFS worker might focus on the family as a whole, a CASA volunteer strictly looks out for the needs of the child, Olson said.

“DCFS will provide services to the family to resolve the situation, while CASA might not advocate that,” Olson said. “Sometimes we look at things differently because we look at it strictly from a child’s point of view. It’s a different balancing act, if you will.”

CASA DeKalb County has 64 advocates, with three more waiting to be sworn in, Olson said.

Although turnover of volunteers is low, the need for their services has increased. In 2011, they served 214 children, and Olson is expecting more of the same.

“Pretty much everyone is working on a case,” Olson said.

Some volunteers have been working since the program began in 1993. Jane Levinsky said she has been working with children as a CASA volunteer since 2003. She said she has worked with five families and 10 children.

Olson encouraged would-be volunteers to visit CASA’s website at casadekalb.org, or call 815-895-2052.

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