Nonprofit You Should Know: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Cook County

Casey Wittekind

At Neon, we have the opportunity to work with thousands of nonprofits who do amazing work. But each month, we spotlight one of our clients doing something particularly exciting!

This month we’re honored to spotlight CASA of Cook County — an organization in Chicago, Illinois dedicated to protecting and providing services to children in the foster care system. CASA of Cook County has been a Neon client since 2010. We are excited to tell you their story.

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What They Do

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, these volunteers are everyday people who are trained as advocates for foster children in the court system. Cook County includes Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, a population of over 5 million people. According to CASA of Cook County, “In an overwhelmed and extremely under-resourced foster care system…without a helping hand from CASA of Cook County volunteer advocates, these children might fall through the cracks and never be given an opportunity to find a place to call home.”

Volunteers at CASA of Cook County are responsible for speaking on behalf of the child, representing the child’s best interest to the judge. CASA volunteers are generally assigned to cases involving physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Judges make the decision to appoint a CASA advocate to about 5% of the 5800 foster care cases in Cook County.

Founded in 1986 as a program of Illinois Action for Children, CASA of Cook County was the first CASA organization in Illinois. In 2001, CASA of Cook County became an independent not-for-profit organization and to this day continues its mission to advocate for our most vulnerable citizens, our children. The goal of CASA volunteers is to break the cycle of abuse, impacting multiple generations into the future.

Why it Matters

CASA of Cook County

from casacookcounty.org

According to national studies, children who receive the services of a CASA volunteer are 95% less likely to reenter the child welfare system. Many of these children are our most vulnerable citizens, and Congress has said that every $1 invested in the prevention of child abuse and neglect can save up to $5 in social service costs. Nationally, more than 250,000 children had CASA advocates speaking for them.

In addition to their regular services, CASA of Cook County has 2 additional specialized programs: MARK – Medically At Risk Kids and CITY – Creating Independent Transitions for Youth. MARK is designed for medically fragile children, CASA advocates are assigned to these cases to ensure the child receives the “appropriate medical care and to minimize the potential for re-abuse”. CITY works with older youth who are about to age of out the foster care system, preparing them for adulthood and independent living. “CITY advocates work one-on-one with youth age 16 and older to ensure their current safety and to provide guidance in necessary financial, educational and life skills. With this guidance, youth will begin to understand how to advocate for themselves and how to become successful, productive members of their communities.”

On their website, CASA of Cook County has many success stories to tell how their advocates made a positive impact in the life of a child. Here is just one:

The Situation

Eight-year-old Ricky is completely deaf in one ear and can only partially hear out of the other. His hearing problems have left him feeling isolated and alone.

CASA Steps In

During one of his CASA volunteer’s visits, Ricky’s foster mom explained that she’d been trying to get a hearing aid for him but hadn’t been able because of to all the red tape. At this point, she was considering paying for the $2,000 hearing aid out of her own pocket. Ricky’s CASA volunteer, Annie, felt the hearing aid should be a top priority, so she went the judge and told him about it.

The Outcome

The judge ordered that Ricky be given a hearing aid immediately. Within one month Ricky received the hearing aid and is now able to more easily communicate with others.

How They Do It

CASA of Cook County receives little government funding. Instead, they look for their support from private donors, foundations, among other sources. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, supporters ran the Chicago Marathon, raising over $100,000 to support their work. You can support a 2017 runner here.

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from casacookcounty.org

Due to their minimal government funding, CASA of Cook County must raise their operating budget from other sources. In NeonCRM, they extensively use the Prospects and Activities tools. For their team, this is the best part of the system, the ability to centrally communicate what each team member is working on and keeping track of what they need to do. The CASA of Cook County team can be reminded of reports for funders, phone calls to a donor, and much more. Because everything is stored electronically, they can easily share information across the office. This includes donor history, which is especially important in reports to the board.

Beatriz Valdez, the new Interim Executive Director at CASA of Cook County, explained that she spent more than an hour searching computer folders and spreadsheets to find information on their donors. Once she got into Neon, she was able to get the information she needed in 15 minutes. As a brand new user, Beatriz is easily able to go into the system and run reports for the board, including 10 years of historical donor information.

As a client who has been with Neon for several years, they have seen Neon grow and change. As NeonCRM Sales Consultant, Bose’ Akadiri said, “The CASA of Cook County team works hard to make an incredible impact on youth in our community. Their work training individuals to advocate for and support youth in the judicial system is invaluable. They’ve expanded this work to offer programs such as Creating Independent Transitions Youth (CITY) in which the older children participate in workshops hosted at offices throughout the Chicagoland community. CITY exposes teens to various career opportunities and sparks creativity! We are proud to have partnered with CASA of Cook County for the past seven years – we have truly grown together!”

The CASA of Cook County Team echoes Bose’ in saying that their best advice to other organizations is to use the resources that Neon has available to not only get your system up and running but also at times of staff turnover. As they explained, “when there is a turnover, there is a loss of knowledge, that is when support comes in as critical…Reach out to Neon to get the education and resources to get you up to speed quickly.”

If you want to get involved, there are more than 76,000 CASA volunteers nationwide, you can check out the national website here to find the CASA in your community.

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