ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Local children involved in the criminal justice system will soon find another ally.
Winnebago County CASA welcomed some new volunteers, and the group has been training for this moment for quite some time.
Newly sworn-in advocates will be appointed to their cases soon, and CASA leaders said they are helping to fill a critical need in the community.
“It’ll be really good to be able to build relationships with these kids that are in really hard situations, and just be an advocate for them,” said newly sworn-in CASA Abby Finley.
Finley is one of seven people who were sworn-in as new Winnebago County CASA volunteers Tuesday evening. She is looking forward to working with kids at the center of neglect and abuse cases, and supporting them through the court process.
“They just need someone to believe in them, and support them through a really hard time,” Finley said. “So, I’m excited to go on this journey with whatever family I get paired with.”
“We are kind of that squeaky wheel in-between court dates, working alongside the case worker, seeing how we can assist them, so we can expedite services,” added Jillisa Bondurant, Winnebago County Casa Program Director. “Making sure the placements work for the children and that they’re safe in their placements.”
Bondurant said the recruits came at the perfect time. The organization has been facing a volunteer shortage, which has only grown during the pandemic.
“We have over 1,200 children at the attention of the courts. It was closer to 1,400 at the beginning of the year, and CASA is right now serving about 250 of them,” Bondurant said. “For seven people to say ‘Yes, I give my life for two years for children who may have experienced abuse or neglect in the court system,’ I celebrate even just one.”
Bondurant is hopeful that more people step up to help local kids in 2022.
“We have set the goal for next year. We want to swear in a total of 130 advocates, to give us a total of 200 advocates,” Bondurant said. “With that, we’ll be able to serve at least 500 children.”
“I feel like CASA has done a great job training us, and being realistic with us that some days will be really hard, but some days will be so rewarding,” added Finley.
Each CASA volunteer is expected to commit to the organization for at least two years. If someone is not able to volunteer, they can also help the non-profit by attending their upcoming “Advocates Club Fundraiser.”