Illinois Foster Care Child Says Volunteers Emerge as Real Heroes
05/22/2017

An Illinois youth who spent more than a decade in foster care retells his story and brings attention to those additional people who emerged as his real heroes.

Online PR News – 22-May-2017 – Vernon Hills, Illinois – Eddie Turner, now 22 and an aspiring musician, was removed from his troubled home north of Chicago and placed in foster care at age 11 by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

He remained in foster care 10 years. Asked recently to address an event, Eddie said little-recognized special advocate volunteers are the “extraordinary heroes when no one else is there.” Foster parents alone can’t do the job. Volunteers, he added, steer youth away from crime or school-related issues and toward early life success.

Here are excerpts from his talk.

Growing up, I spent half my life in Illinois’ DCFS system.

All that time, my foster parents never failed to tell me when I had done something wrong. But they did have a problem praising me when I had done something right.

Now 22 and looking back, I could hardly blame them. I kept making bad choices. I skipped school and chose the wrong friends. I stole and that led to eventual trouble with the police.

The truth was I was behaving pretty badly. I felt alone. Trust, support and empathy were missing from my life.

Then an unexpected person entered my life. She was a volunteer child advocate and someone I still call “my CASA.”

The Lake County, Illinois’ non-profit CASA (court appointed special advocates) supports and inspires approximately 300 court-appointed volunteer advocates.

The need is clear: In 2017 more than 1,500 Lake County children will be reported as abused or neglected. The need for community awareness of these child tragedies and for their support keeps growing.

Each year CASA Lake County advocates work tirelessly for more than 500 foster children in need, countywide. Volunteers are trained by CASA staff to promote and protect the child’s best interests and work to find safe, permanent homes.

These kids (like me in 2004) have been removed from their biological parents’ homes due to abuse or alarming neglect. Or perhaps it was because they weren’t being fed or kept in school. They need literally everything: Food and a bed, stable housing and medical care, tutoring, and those occasional but very important pep talks.

Who are the advocates? They are caring people who understand each child’s specific situation and who will be there when no one else is around to comfort them from lengthy court proceedings. A foster child’s life can be severely disrupted because of moving from one temporary home to another.

Thankfully, children with a CASA spend on average nearly eight fewer months in foster care.

My CASA was extraordinary. She motivated me to earn better grades, spoke up for me in front of court judges and resourcefully tended to my living needs. Along the way, she became the one praising me for doing at least a few things right.

Debby was the caring, consistent adult in my life I never had earlier. She believed in my potential.

What should CASA mean to our communities? Regrettably, Illinois ranks third in the length of time youth spend in foster care. Last year despite severe government spending cuts, CASA Lake County volunteers devoted 35,000 hours to help area youth. They ensured that judicial orders on where each child was to live and what services each child was to receive were upheld.

CASA continues giving kids a powerful voice - and a chance to become successful adults.

The bottom line is last year more than 100 Lake County children who once were bouncing around the system were adopted into a new home, placed with a permanent guardian or safely reunited with their biological parents. The 2017 case load will be even larger.

Let’s thank the area businesses, grantors and individuals who give financially and through their time to support CASA’s bright light.

I am one who values that light and the path it illuminates.