In our ongoing commitment to shedding light on remarkable organizations and individuals working to make a positive impact, we recently had the privilege of sitting down with the Executive Director of CASA Kane County, Jim Di Ciaula. Di Ciaula is an active community leader, who is passionate about building relationships and giving back. In this insightful interview, we dive into the core of CASA Kane County’s mission, child welfare advocacy, recruitment of volunteer advocates, the challenges they face and how they collaborate with other organizations to better serve children in need.
Q&A Interview: CASA Mission & Child Welfare Advocacy
Q1: Can you provide an overview of CASA Kane County’s mission and the services it offers to the community?
So, Casa Kane County really stands for a court-appointed special advocate, Guardian ad Litem. We provide advocacy for children that enter the foster care system. So, a child is removed from their home, placed into foster care, and immediately upon their first court hearing, they are assigned a Guardian ad Litem or a CASA. Our CASA volunteers are the ones that are advocating for that child throughout the entire time that they’re in foster care system.
Q2: What inspired you to become involved with CASA Kane County and what led you to the role of executive director?
That’s an interesting question. I feel like everything I’ve done in my life, or I’ve experienced in my life, some not so good things and some very positive things, have all added and led to where I’m at today. I really feel that I’m meant to be here at this point in my life because of everything that’s accumulated. I am big on giving back and on social justice. And when you look at those that are the most vulnerable – children and youth, that are being abused and neglected, that really fits in well with my morals and ethics and a place where I think I could help make a difference in the lives of those children.
Q3: CASA is known for its volunteer advocates. Could you explain how CASA Kane County recruits, trains and supports these volunteers?
Yes. Recruiting is always a challenge, if you will. Through increasing awareness of ourselves in the community throughout Kane County, making presentations to different community groups, churches, clubs. Wherever we could get opportunities to talk to folks about our work, we try to make those presentations available whether that’s through social media or other venues. We’re also looking to share our story and our mission to get people interested in wanting to become a CASA volunteer. That advocate is so important to how you could change a child’s story, and the need has never been greater. We’ve increased significantly since COVID as the number of children entering the system, and therefore the need for volunteers has continued to just increase.
Q4: What are some of the most pressing challenges faced by CASA Kane County in advocating for children’s welfare, and how does the organization address them?
There are a few things. One is the fact that there are so many children in care that the timeline from when they start the court process to when they’re either returned home, adopted or aged out of the system can be a few years. And so that’s a real challenge because it doesn’t move quickly. That’s the system. So, I mean, that just adds to the importance of advocacy and having someone that would actually be there for that child throughout the entire time that that child’s in the system. They’re not foster parents. They may move to three or four different foster homes. They’re their advocate. Understanding the child’s needs, understanding where they are on the journey, making sure the services are being provided and really advocating for their best interests in court. So that’s one challenge. The sheer growth is another challenge. So, we’ve had to do that by increasing staff. Of course, that increase in staff goes with the increasing need for raising funds. It’s a catch-22, but we need to continue to ensure that 100% of our children are served. So, if we don’t have all the volunteers, we need increased staff for the number of cases. So that’s a second challenge. I think the other challenge that I’m always trying to keep a pulse on is the mental health of our staff and our volunteers. So, some of the stories that we deal with are quite heartbreaking and making sure that they’re able to take the necessary time and self-wellness that may be needed to manage what their feelings might be or what they’re going through because of that case.
Q5: How does CASA Kane County collaborate with other organizations and agencies in the community to better serve children in need?
Well, we had a perfect example of this. Two weeks ago, we held an educational conference, and that was not just with our CASA volunteers, but with a number of community partners. And so, we really try to keep a list or a pulse on the different organizations in our community that our children or the foster families could benefit from. We keep that online, but we also had almost 20 of them represented at our conference to make sure that our staff and the volunteers are aware that these services are available to foster children or to foster families. And wherever we find opportunities to collaborate, then we want to do so for the betterment of the child.
CASA Kane County’s unwavering commitment to advocating for children who have experienced abuse and neglect is truly commendable. If you are inspired by CASA Kane County’s mission and wish to make a difference in the lives of our youth, consider becoming a CASA volunteer or supporting our vital work through donations.
CASA Kane County is currently seeking VOLUNTEERS! To learn more and Change a Child’s Story, please visit the organization’s website at www.casakanecounty.org or call 630-232-4484.