During the last year, 104 children in the state of Illinois have lost their lives to abuse or neglect.
As a testament to their memory, the DuPage branch of the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, held its annual "Hands Around the Courthouse" event April 17 at the DuPage County Courthouse and Administration Annex.
Outside were 104 blue pinwheels to commemorate the children's lives and to raise awareness of April being child abuse prevention month.
The nonprofit is part of a national organization that recruits and trains volunteer advocates to help monitor the court cases of children who have gone through the county court system as victims of neglect or abuse, alongside paid staff.
Its volunteers and staff submit objective reports to judges about the progress of a child, which can lead to more access to needed services.
"CASA believes that every child has a right to a safe, permanent and nurturing home," Executive Director Lisa Drake said in front of advocates, judges, state's attorneys, social workers and others involved with the program. "CASA of DuPage is a private agency and is privately funded to do what no other organization in the county does: be the voice of the child in the court."
During the nonprofit's current fiscal year, CASA has served 325 children as of March, only five off of last year's record-breaking pace, which topped out at 356.
Drake said that it was not a mark they were proud of; instead, they hoped the pinwheels would remind residents of the escalating problem.
Though that number has been on the rise, Judge Robert Anderson, who presides over many DuPage juvenile cases, said CASA's work in the county was indispensable.
"All the judges that have heard juvenile cases love and appreciate CASA and what it does," he said. "Recently, I sat in a case where the work of CASA literally saved a child's life."
The average case for children who have been taken from their parents and put in foster care due to neglect or abuse is 38 months, Drake said, and includes an average of six foster locations.
"For many of these children, CASA is the most consistent part of their lives," Anderson said.