Since April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I thought it might be a good idea to shed a little light on the issue of child abuse in our communities, and highlight a resource that is available for the victims and their families. In fiscal year 2016, there were 245,388 calls to the Child Abuse Hotline in Illinois. Of those there were 20,102 indicated reports of abuse or neglect in Illinois that led to case openings. 90% of local foster care kids have been neglected and 10% have experienced abuse. Sadly, neglect causes more long-term harm to children.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) must bring the facts to the court which decides if there is enough evidence to prove a child was abused or neglected. If there is enough evidence, the judge awards temporary custody to DCFS and a court case begins.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is then appointed to the case.
Kristen Bertrand, Executive Director of CASA of East Central Illinois, provided me with a lot of information about this topic and CASA. CASA volunteers are highly trained and look out for the best interests of the children only. CASA does not duplicate the services of DCFS. They observe parent visits and monitor what services the parents are completing. More importantly so they can advocate for the children, they really get to know the children's strengths and areas of growth, their wishes, needs, educational strengths, and their relationships with the parents and siblings, etc., so that they can be a voice in court for those children - asking for what is in their best interests. Reunification with parents may or may not be what is best for the children. CASA volunteers meet the needs of our community by ensuring that the needs of abused and neglected children are being met, by investigating into their current and former way of life, and by reporting their findings to the juvenile court, giving the juvenile judge a broader platform from which to make decisions. Breaking the cycle of child abuse and neglect then aids the entire community by improving classrooms, reducing poverty rates, reducing teen pregnancies, and helping children become responsible and caring adults.
To find your local CASA agency, please call 1-800-628-3233 or go online to www.casaforchildren.org If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, the Illinois Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-252-2873 or call 911 if the child is in immediate danger.