April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and organizations like Court Appointed Special Advocates for children are spreading the word about their efforts.
Many children are unable to experience the innocence of childhood without child abuse or neglect. Children can be faced with unstable lives of abuse, foster care placement and the lack of a permanent nurturing home.
In 2013, CASA of Southwestern Illinois served more than 508 children collectively from the court systems of St. Clair, Monroe and Madison counties. CASA volunteers were a “voice” for abused and neglected children in the court system.
CASA of Southwestern Illinois strives to recruit, train, support and supervise volunteers who advocate for the best interest of abused and neglected children. Volunteer CASA advocates provide support to the children that aide the courts in making a decision for the best interest of the child. Currently, CASA has more than 100 volunteers and need more volunteers to act as a voice of abused and neglected children.
Mechicko White, Executive Director of CASA Southwestern Illinois, said the organization is in the middle of a volunteer campaign.
“We have 100 kids waiting for us, and we’d like to get 75 new volunteers,” she said. “We’re pretty small and need the help.”
CASA is not a state agency, and is partly funded by United Way, but they must raise the other half of the money needed to keep doing what they do.
White has been meeting with the Monroe County Board to seek an increase in fees from $10 up to $30 for court offenses, which will benefit CASA directly.
Christine Campo of Waterloo has volunteered with CASA for 12 years.
“I had worked in the court system for years as a state employee for child support enforcement,” she said. “I love kids.”
It’s just really rewarding to be able to be an advocate for these kids,” she said. “CASA gives some consistency to cases so there’s someone who has been there since the beginning. It’s a commitment. You stick with that kid.”
They all end up where they should, whether they go home, end up in a traditional foster home or with family,” she said. “All my cases have had a happy ending.”
Campo plans to continue working with CASA in the future.
“People ask me why I keep doing it, but you can’t quit,” she said. “You can’t disappoint a child and walk away from them.”
In one particular case of Campo’s, a family had five children, the youngest of which was a baby.
“The kids had an incredible bond with their mom and dad that I hadn’t seen in any other case,” she said. “The parents weren’t bad people, but they hit a bump in the road and needed some time to regroup and get their lives back on track, which they did.”
In this case, the children were able to go back home with their family eventually, and Campo said they are doing well.
“I make a lot of friends doing this, and I stay in touch with a lot of them,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
She encourages everyone who is interested to become a part of CASA.
“You have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” she said.
The process of becoming a volunteer requires a background check and 30-hour training with eight hours of court supervision. Call 618-234-4278 for more information.