‘It’s a call for heroes’: Hands Around the Courthouse raises awareness of child abuse, neglect and the need for more volunteer advocates

Before joining hands to observe a moment of silence on Thursday during CASA Kane County's annual Hands Around the Courthouse event, Executive Director Jim Di Ciaula asked the more than 100 people gathered in the lobby of the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva to look up.

Hanging on the railings of the second floor above them, people saw two long banners with 663 little neon hand prints, each hand representing a child in Kane County involved in an abuse or neglect situation in 2023 — the most in the 35-year history of the agency.

  Banners with 663 child hand prints, each representing a child in Kane County involved in an abuse or neglect situation in 2023, hang in the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva on Thursday for CASA Kane County’s Hands Around the Courthouse event. Rick West/

“Every year since COVID we’ve reached a new high, and we keep wondering when we will have finally reached our maximum, and then the following year it goes higher and higher,” said Natalie Bohner, senior manager of events and development for CASA Kane County.

The nonprofit agency, whose acronym stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates, trains volunteers who are then appointed by judges to advocate on behalf of children in foster care because of abuse and neglect.

Bohner said they continue to meet the needs of 100% of the children in Kane County who require advocates, but only because of staff members taking cases and volunteers who take more than one case at a time.

“We are desperately in need of new volunteers to help us meet the need without overburdening our staff and seasoned volunteers,” she said.

Board Chair Kristi Wano echoed the need for help from the community during the event, held annually during Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“This is not merely a call for volunteers,” she said. “It’s a call for heroes.”

CASA Kane County volunteers are sworn in as officers of the court — Guardians ad Litem — and are often the first person the Juvenile Court Judge wants to hear from regarding the best interests of the children.

Chief Judge Robert Villa said being a child in a courtroom setting can make them feel hopeless.

  People gathered Thursday at the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva for CASA Kane County’s Hands Around the Courthouse event. Chief Judge Robert Villa was among the speakers. Rick West/

“It is in the pursuit of hope for the juveniles that appear in front of us, children who are at their most vulnerable, that CASA does their best work,” he said. “We could not do it without you.”

Children and youth who have spent time in the child welfare system are more likely to face incarceration, homelessness and unemployment. Statistics show they are also less likely to graduate high school and more likely to be trafficked.

  Ellen Ljung of Geneva is moved to tears on Thursday during CASA Kane County’s Hands Around the Courthouse event in Geneva. Ljung has volunteered as a child advocate for the group for three years. Rick West/
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