CASA finds new ways to support children and families


DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — One Macon County group is all about looking after kids in the court system. Now they are coming up with ways to still do that, even when they cannot see them face-to-face as often.

Macon County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is made up of volunteers trained to step into courtrooms on behalf of children. Julia Livingston, Executive Director for Macon County CASA, said they typically have contact with their assigned children once or twice a month. However, with children out of school, they are now reaching out once or twice a week.

She said CASAs are contacting their children through phone calls, texts, FaceTime, Zoom and other virtual methods. This is to make sure the children and their families are getting the proper support they need during this time.

Not only does CASA advocate for children in the courtroom, but they also connect their families with resources in the community. Livingston said they link families with resources like the Northeast Community Fund for food and Crossing Healthcare for medical needs. She brought up a recent case where they learned about a mother that needed milk and diapers for her baby during a time when those are hard to come by. She said they reached out to BabyTALK, an organization that helps mothers and young children, and got the items she needed.

Livingston said right now, they are concerned not only about children in the court system, but children in general. She said calls to the DCFS hotline are down by 45 percent. While many would think this is a good thing, Livingston said this means abuse could be going up reported. As more children are out of the public eye of grocery stores and schools, not as many people are seeing the warning signs of abuse. This is what is causing them to be concerned.

As school districts switch over to remote learning, a lot of teachers are reaching out through Zoom and other virtual methods. Livingston suggested using this as a way of gauging if a student is in need of help. She said to ask if a they feel safe and press if they see something is not right while they are video-chatting. If they do feel like a child is in danger, they are asked to call the DCFS hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Livingston said they usually host gatherings as ways of being “loud” about the cause. However, now she said they will be taking to social media to spread the word. You can find information about how you can help end child abuse on their Facebook page or their website.

CASA will also be launching their first ever training session that is completely online. Volunteers can go through the training and become a certified advocate for area children. Training will start in mid-April. However, registration is now online.

If you are not thinking of becoming a CASA yourself, Livingston said you can still help the organization by buying raffle tickets for their playhouse giveaway. For the past 18 years, CASA has been partnering with local groups to building two playhouses to giveaway through the raffle. Tickets are $5. All proceeds go directly back to CASA.

Livingston said some people wonder if they should still buy tickets even if the do not have children that will play with them and her answer is, “yes!” If your name is drawn, CASA will find deserving families to give it to.

You can purchase tickets online through May 7. Winners are expected to be drawn on May 9.

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