GENEVA – A sad little girl sits with her knees up, her eyes closed, arms wrapped tightly around a teddy bear is the new voice for a CASA Kane County initiative to improve reporting of suspected child abuse.
"Your voice could be my only chance," the message states.
They're making it as easy and succinct as possible by putting the information on both sides of a business card.
CASA – which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate – is a nonprofit, volunteer organization that advocates for abused and neglected children within the county’s juvenile court system.
Executive director Gloria Kelley said the initiative started four years ago through a partnership with Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon and the Kane County Regional Office of Education.
“We started presenting and sending out packets of information to mandated reporters about what they can do – and need to be doing – from the top leadership down,” Kelley said. “Our three entities came together because our mission is providing a safe environment and protecting children.”
But now they’ve “moved the needle” and will begin presenting to school districts on mandated reporting, Kelley said.
“We want to present to all nine superintendents in Kane County,” Kelley said. “We really want to make sure our messaging is not only heard, but is consistent in Kane County. Our hope is that with our program, other counties will adopt the same strategy and partner with more people.”
Their first presentation planned is to administrators in Aurora West District 129 in August, Kelley said.
A five-step mandated reporting tool kit is available on the CASA Kane County website, www.casakanecounty.org to make the process easier to understand, Kelley said.
The tool kit includes a review of the legal mandates for reporting, a podcast and the ability to download print and display flyers to distribute.
Mandated reporters are people who work in schools, medical, social services and mental health professionals, law enforcement, coroner and medical examiner personnel, child care workers and clergy.
“It’s very user friendly,” Kelley said of the tool kit on the website. “For so many years, we have complicated this very sensitive issue of keeping children safe in our community. … Our team took a bigger stance to create a community action group. … We are going out in the community to share with them what we are doing and putting these posters and signs up in their offices.”
In addition to the message, “If you see something, say something,” the initiative wants to bring home the point that anyone can report suspected child abuse, Kelley said.
“Keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility,” Kelley said. “We over complicated something that does not need to be complicated. You do not need to be a mandated reporter to do the right thing.”
With the beating death of A.J. Freund in Crystal Lake, allegedly at the hands of his parents, Kelley said many people have called to ask how they can become CASA volunteers.
“We are anticipating more calls and if there’s more calls, then of course, we will start to get more cases coming in,” Kelley said. “In abuse and neglect, we’ve already seen a doubling of new cases from last year, from 50 to 100. We need more volunteers. We need more donors."
Any organization or group that would like a presentation on reporting suspected child abuse can call CASA Kane County at 630-232-4484 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those interested in becoming a CASA volunteer should attend a general information meeting from 3 to 4 p.m. Aug. 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 14 and Dec. 15, at the Kane County Courthouse, 100 S. Third St., Geneva.