Pinwheels a reminder of neglected children

Pinwheels a reminder of neglected children

URBANA — Blue pinwheels twirling on the lawn of the Champaign County Courthouse are a reminder of the 472 children in the community's court system because of abuse or neglect.

Champaign County CASA, or Court-Appointed Special Advocates, created the "Pinwheels for Prevention" display in early April as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness about its work on behalf of children. The pinwheels will remain on display through Monday.

The agency, which represents abused or neglected children in court proceedings, has 240 active cases involving 472 kids, said Executive Director Rush Record.

"Our sole purpose is to speak up for the best interests of the child," Record said.

CASA hopes the campaign will help recruit more volunteer advocates to represent the children in court.

The agency currently has about 170 advocates for its 240 cases, and another 10 will graduate from a training program next week, he said.

"The goal is to have an advocate for every case," Record said.

Volunteer advocates receive in-depth training, including 30 hours in the classroom and more time observing cases in court, and seasoned advocates mentor them, he said. The agency recently hired a third advocate coordinator to oversee the volunteers.

"It really is difficult volunteer work, but they also have an opportunity to make recommendations to the judge for what is in the best interests of these children," Record said. "The impact they have can be pretty significant for a child to help find permanency."

The non-profit agency contracts with Champaign County to provide services and receives some state grants and support from the United Way. But a significant portion of its $230,000 budget, about $60,000 a year, comes from private donors, Record said.

"With the economy the way it is, every little bit of money helps," he said.

The Champaign-Urbana Junior League, which has sponsored other CASA activities, provided a $500 grant for the pinwheels.

Junior League President Danielle Wilberg said the volunteer group recently adopted a new category for its community action grants called "basic needs for school readiness." Many children involved in the CASA program are dealing with problems that might prevent them from being able to walk into school every day ready to learn, Wilberg said.

"Being able to provide help through this program is just one way for us to give stability to kids who maybe don't have it," she said.

CASA collaborated with Champaign County's Crisis Nursery and Children's Advocacy Center on other events this month — including the "Blue Kids" displays around town, a human blue-ribbon chain around the Crisis Nursery, and blue-ribbon magnets on all emergency vehicles in town.

CASA development director Elizabeth Buckley said the agencies hope to collaborate more in the future.

"We're finding we serve some of the same families, and we see some of the same kids," she said.