CASA of McHenry County volunteers sought as children in need of someone ‘who shows up for them’ increase

At least 300 children will need advocates this year

Carrianne Hornok, of Cary, is a volunteer court-appointed special advocate with CASA of McHenry County, who works with a 15-year-old girl in foster care, at the CASA of McHenry County offices in Crystal Lake.

Carrianne Hornok of Cary is a full-time photographer, mom of three and a volunteer court-appointed advocate for a 15-year-old girl living in foster care.

The last role is one Hornok, who said she recently realized she is the first and only “constant” in the teen’s life, has no plans of abandoning anytime soon.

But a year after state legislation was passed requiring all children living in foster care or group homes be assigned a court-appointed special advocate, CASA of McHenry County finds itself falling short of volunteers like Hornok.

Before Jan. 1, 2022, it was up to the court’s discretion whether to appoint an advocate to a case; now, it is a requirement.

As a result, the number of children in need of a CASA volunteer increased about 50% last year to 275. For these cases, 162 volunteers were assigned. The number of children in need of an advocate is expected to grow to 300 this year, said Becky Morris, executive director of CASA of McHenry County.

To serve this growing group of children, CASA is currently seeking about 50 new volunteers.

“We are definitely in need of a high number of volunteers,” said Morris, who has worked with CASA since 2005.

To attract volunteers, the group hosts information sessions throughout the year and is currently preparing for a fundraiser on March 10. The Big City Bash will be held at Avante Banquets in Fox River Grove. So far, about 250 guests have purchased tickets.

A virtual informational meeting held recently drew just two people, much lower than usual, Morris said. Typically about 10 attend. The meetings are good ways for people to learn if being an advocate is something they would be interested in.

A CASA volunteer is a trained citizen appointed by a judge to speak for the best interests of a child who has been adjudicated as abused or neglected by the juvenile court system.

Carrianne Hornok, of Cary, is a volunteer court-appointed special advocate with CASA of McHenry County, who works with a 15-year-old girl in foster care, at the CASA of McHenry County offices in Crystal Lake.

The main requirements for an advocate are they are at least 21 years old, pass a background check, are able and willing to write reports and are in a stable place in their own life.

But most important, is that “you love these kids, and you are passionate about the mission,” Morris said.

Morris and Sharie Dodge, a CASA advocate engagement manager, said they hope to attract volunteers with tender hearts from all kinds of backgrounds and interests to shine a positive light in a traumatized child’s life.

The experience can be both rewarding and heartbreaking. The latter is likely what keeps many people from volunteering, Dodge said.

“Many say, ‘I am not sure if my heart can handle it,’ ” Dodge said. “You are dealing with abuse and neglect. We come in after the abuse or neglect has been substantiated. We know what happened, and now we are in the process of healing and hope. There is no better thing we can give a child than hope.”

Being a CASA is not “your average volunteer position,” Dodge said. “You are doing some pretty intense work.”

Morris said the program seeks volunteers who will stay for the entirety of a case, which can range from six months to five years.

Volunteers are selected “per case,” which could mean more than one child in the case, and they are thoughtfully matched with children based on their preferences, Morris said. The ages of the children in need of an advocate range from newborns to 21 years old. They have suffered various forms of abuse, neglect, trauma and are experiencing some type of grief and loss.

Even if they have been removed from an abusive, neglectful home, it is still the home they knew. It is their “comfort zone, ... their familiar,” and being removed from other family members, pets and their toys still brings on some type of trauma, Morris said.

“These kids often get moved to different schools, foster placement and end up in different homes with different families,” Morris said. “Their case workers switch at times, but a CASA is supposed to be the one constant adult in their lives.”

Hornok said since working with the teenager, who she described as her “perfect match,” for little more than a year now, she “does not see this relationship ending.”

Many say, ‘I am not sure if my heart can handle it.’

—  Sharie Dodge, CASA of McHenry County advocate engagement manager

Hornok, whose own children are 17, 18 and 22 and embarking on their own adult paths, is committed to advocating as a court-appointed advocate for the teen girl and helping her to gain her own independence.

“I will continue to be here for her even when her court case ends,” Hornok said.

A lot of being an advocate involves building trust by making and keeping promises with children who have built up their walls as a result of their abusive and neglectful home lives.

Hornok can attest to that trust building process and to instilling the importance of following through.

She said in the beginning, the girl often canceled on her, but now they meet twice a month and communicate nearly every day. She also reaches out to her for advice, and they talk about the girl’s future and dreams.

“I take the significance of me being that one person she can trust and count on extremely serious now,” Hornok said. “I would never think about not being there for her at this point.”

Referring to the CASA tagline that an advocate can “change a child’s story,” Hornok said, “One day, I honestly hope she can look back and say ‘My story was changed because of my CASA.’ ”

Information on becoming a CASA volunteer, information meetings and the gala can be found at