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Volunteers Needed To Advocate For Kids' Welfare In Court

Jeff Smudde

Volunteers in the greater Peoria area are needed to help represent kids in the child welfare system during their court hearings and make sure they’re placed in safe homes.

A court appointed special advocate, or CASA, gets to know a child who has experienced abuse or neglect and speaks on behalf of their best interest during court proceedings.

Volunteers are managed by CASA of the Tenth Judicial Circuit. Ryan Lucerna coordinates the program in Tazewell County.

“We’re another set of eyes and ears for the judge — the boots on the ground out in the field — to get them that critical information they need to make sure that the court can make the most appropriate decision for the child’s life,” he said.

Lucerna said there are more than 1,200 kids in the child welfare system in Peoria County and another 550 or so in Tazewell County. He said the northern counties — Marshall, Putnam and Stark — have a smaller need.

Volunteers are asked to spend at least five hours a month meeting with the child, writing reports, attending hearings and interviewing other parties involved. They do not need previous experience with the court or child welfare system, but must complete an initial 32-hour training before getting started.

Lucerna said volunteers come from all walks of life — from full-time college students to retirees.

“The only thing that really makes a good advocate is someone who cares about some of society’s most vulnerable individuals, and that’s children involved in the child welfare system.”

CASA Recruiting Coordinator Beckie Christensen said a case can take up to two years to go through the courts, but having more eyes on it can expedite the process.

“Studies have shown actually, though, that cases that have CASA advocates typically close 8 to 9 months sooner than cases that do not have a CASA advocate,” she said. “In the life of a child, that’s a pretty significant amount of time.”

Christensen said they’re looking to add 100 new volunteers each year.

Information meetings will be held August 1st from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. at the Tremont District Library and August 8th from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. at the Washington District Library.

Those interested in volunteering can learn more by calling (309)669-2939 or visiting www.casaofthetenth.org.

Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.