CASA of Peoria County utilizes trained volunteers to ensure safe, permanent homes for abused or neglected children.
In the heart and mind of every child—poor or privileged—there is no place like home. From toddlers to teens, home is everything right and good. Unfortunately, that’s often not a child’s reality. And when trouble brews—domestic violence, sexual abuse or neglect—Peoria County children are sometimes removed from their homes and placed into foster care. Vulnerable and frightened, they face circumstances that can change the very course of their lives, and often not for the better. In foster care, children can be overlooked and shuffled among myriad and inconsistent parties: lawyers, court officers, police, caseworkers and therapists.
In 2005, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Peoria County opened its doors and heart to this community, committing to getting every abused or neglected child in the Peoria Juvenile Court system into a permanent, loving home—a place of hope, and a haven of safety. Today, the organization’s leadership, staff and volunteers are more committed than ever to imparting permanence to the lives of nearly 1,100 children found in the system annually.
As CASA of Peoria County celebrates its 10th anniversary starting in July, it marks an unshakable dedication to this mission: to ensure a safe and permanent home for every abused or neglected child by utilizing specially-trained community volunteers who advocate for them.
“This fiscal year, we are serving 272 children, compared to 27 in our first year—but that figure still represents less than 25 percent of the need,” says Executive Director Pam Perrilles, who has led CASA of Peoria County since its inception. “On average, there are 1,100 in the Peoria system who would benefit from a CASA volunteer. Our goal is to advocate for every child in need.”
Perrilles has led the way in helping to advocate for hundreds of children over 10 years. Her enthusiasm remains strong, but the challenges are many. “The costs for volunteer training, supervision and more add up to about $1,200 per child per year.” Conversely, the savings to taxpayers is significant. CASA-represented children are typically in the system for eight fewer months than their counterparts. Multiply nearly $6,000 per month (DCFS’ cost to keep a child in foster care) by the average eight-month reduction in time in care, and it’s easy to see taxpayer savings of nearly $50,000 per child. Additional funding would let them serve additional kids to close that 75-percent gap and save even more taxpayer money.
Currently, CASA of Peoria County has more than 125 volunteers, up an impressive 1,000 percent since 2005. They are court-appointed, reporting to the judge; however, most of their work is done outside the courtroom. “The common thread is simply a willingness to work hard and really care about our mission, and most of all, the children,” says Advocate Supervisor Michael Zerneck.
If you would like to get involved with CASA of Peoria County, the time is now. Join CASA at the “There’s No Place Like Home” celebration planned for July 30th, from 4:30 to 6:30pm at Two25 Restaurant, 225 NE Adams Street in downtown Peoria. In addition, individuals or businesses may sponsor a child, make a donation or learn more about becoming an advocate by visiting casapeoria.org. iBi