CASA of DuPage—Giving a Voice to Abused and Neglected Children

February 2015 View more

nm lisa drake 2_800px

Lisa Drake, Executive Director

CASA of DuPage is probably one of the most important area nonprofit organizations that you don’t know much about. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers are appointed by a judge to advocate for children who are in the juvenile court system due to abuse or neglect. “CASA is charged with being the eyes and ears of the judge and a voice for the child,” explains Lisa Drake, executive director at CASA of DuPage. CASA’s program brings the private sector into the public child welfare system where it plays an invaluable role in child protection cases.

The Beginning

CASA began in 1977 when a Seattle judge realized that he rarely met the children he presided over in abuse and neglect cases. While case workers and attorneys reported on the family’s progress in meeting custody requirements, no one informed him what the child was going through or what the child wanted and needed. He was inspired to form CASA, which has since grown into a national organization. Today, while every state has CASA organizations, not every county has one. In fact, of the 102 counties in Illinois, only 36 have a CASA program.

CASA of DuPage

CASA of DuPage is one of the few programs nationwide that serves 100 percent of the children in the DuPage juvenile court system. Last year, 265 children were in the juvenile court system due to abuse or neglect. “Our value lies in the fact that we bring the perspective of the ordinary citizen into the case,” says Drake. Advocates are sworn in as a friend of the court and are allowed to attend all case-related meetings, including those at school, as well as visiting the child in placement. “CASA volunteers are not professionals and are not paid for their observations,” explains Drake. “We provide an unbiased, objective report on the child.”

CASA Volunteers

CASA volunteers stay with the case until it is closed and the child is placed into a safe, permanent home. Last year, the average case length was 38 months. During such a long timespan, the child’s appointed attorneys, caseworkers and even foster families may change. “Often the CASA volunteer is the only constant in the child’s life as they go through this process,” said Drake. “In many cases, we are the one person the kids can count on, if they allow themselves to count on us.”

In order to become a CASA advocate, potential volunteers must complete 35 hours of training, three hours of court observation and undergo a background check. CASA volunteers must also complete 12 hours of continuing education annually.

According to Drake, it’s crucial that CASA volunteers remain objective and unbiased throughout the court process. “There is a wide spectrum of gray. It’s a process that can often be long and doesn’t always make sense,” she explains. “CASA volunteers are non-judgemental and report only the facts.”

Raising Funds and Awareness

CASA of DuPage is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Because Illinois is one of only seven states that does not fund its CASA programs, CASA of DuPage relies heavily on fundraising, grants and donations. Its two major fundraisers are the Superheroes Gala held in October and the Superheroes Golf Outing in May.

Drake, who lives in Wheaton with her two sons, has been serving CASA of DuPage as executive director for more than six years. She works tirelessly in her role to promote CASA in the community and to support its volunteers. “What happens to these children during the juvenile court process can affect whether or not they will be positive community contributors as adults. We try to help them as best we can, while we have them,” Drake says.

For more information visit