Champaign County CASA to use $129,000 state grant to expand staff

Champaign County CASA to use $129,000 state grant to expand staff

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign County Court Appointed Special Advocates is expanding its staff after being awarded a $129,000 grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

CASA is among 17 Illinois county agencies sharing $2.7 million from the state agency. ICJIA Executive Director John Maki announced the grants Tuesday for organizations whose advocates are trained in trauma-informed practices and offer emotional support to those who have been victimized.

CASA Executive Director Rush Record said the grant will allow the agency to cover some of its current personnel costs, expand its advocate coordinators from three to four and help better distribute workloads among them.

"Our caseloads per coordinator has been relatively high," Record said. "So this is going to help distribute more evenly the work among the folks directly working with advocates and children."

The grants are funded with money brought in during fiscal year 2016 as part of the federal Victims of Crime Act. The 1984 legislation established the Crime Victims Fund, which is financed by fines paid by convicted federal offenders. By 2013, it had reached a balance of almost $9 billion.

"We know that less than 10 percent of children who are victims of violent crimes, such as rape, robbery, or aggravated assault, get the emotional support they need," Maki said."These awards will help us engage them more quickly, get them connected with someone who will help them navigate through the court process, and pave the way to more positive outcomes."

The grants were the result of a competitive process that saw Champaign County CASA — which advocates for about 340 children in more than 230 different cases — earn the ninth-highest amount. The two highest — Kane County in the Chicago suburbs and Peoria County — each received almost $500,000.

Champaign County CASA won't get its money right away; it will have to bill for it. It has already hired the new staff member and is working on implementing programs so it can get the reimbursement at the end of the first quarter of this year.

And Record added that it certainly doesn't cover the whole budget, as the agency still relies heavily on support from groups like the United Way and the rest of the Champaign-Urbana community.

"I just want to emphasize that this money doesn't solve our entire budget, though it certainly helps," Record said. "We'll still need our community's support."

Record said the ICJIA's two-year application and review process was quick and relatively simple.

"To know all that work paid off, I think it's really encouraging," he said. "Now the real work begins."