GENEVA – About 100 people packed the lobby of the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva April 11 to mark the 16th annual CASA Kane County Hands Around the Courthouse event that brings attention and awareness to child abuse and neglect.
The crowd included the CASAs – court-appointed advocates who provide support for children in the court system – as well as supporters, attorneys and Bikers Against Child Abuse. The annual observance is held during April, which is the National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Guest speaker Dan Duffy, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, said the organization has chapters in all 50 states. It works to prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting parents through its home-visiting program, Healthy Families America.
“We know from research that birth to 3 is key – the most important years for a child,” Duffy said.
The stimulation of being talked to, read to, sung to, hugged and loved aids in the brain development they will rely on for the rest of their lives, Duffy said.
His organization relies on research and best practices to promote positive parent-child relationships through these home visits.
Kane County Circuit Judge Robert Villa said as a judge, he prepares for the cases before him and pays attention to the people involved.
“I try to do the best for people,” Villa said. “Complacency kills.”
As a Catholic, he also looks to the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi for purpose, but said parts of the prayer would resonate with everyone:
“'Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. And where there is sadness, joy,'” Villa said, quoting from the prayer. “Be the hand that helps.”
Gloria Kelley, executive director of CASA Kane County, said volunteers provided 20,000 hours “on behalf of the voiceless in the courtroom.”
Kelley said that is why she wears a starfish pendant on her necklace – to remind her that it takes one person to make a difference in a child’s life.
“If you see something, say something,” Kelley said, of situations that make a person suspicious about child abuse and neglect. “You have nothing to lose. That child has everything to lose.”
Mary Lynn Cali of St. Charles, a CASA volunteer for 19 years, said she appreciates the annual gathering to raise awareness.
“It makes me feel appreciated for the amazing support we CASAs have in the community,” Cali said. “From the judicial community and especially our staff that supports us.”