NEENAH, Wis. — In 2016, a local newspaper article changed the course of a Neenah man’s life.

But not right away.

What You Need To Know

  • CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocate

  • CASA volunteers help abused and neglected children navigate the judicial system

  • There is a need for volunteers, especially males, in the Fox Cities

“I just kind of kept it as a reminder on the refrigerator, and finally, after a year, I gave them a call,” said Bill Hanley.

The article featured a volunteer for CASA, which stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocate.

“I think it was meant to be,” said Hanley.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

CASA volunteers advocate for neglected or abused children in the judicial system.

Hanley’s been at it for five years now. He called it “mentoring with teeth.”

“When I see a child leaving a home, and that child has been abused or neglected in such a way that they can no longer be there, my heart goes out to that child,” explained Hanley. “I want to do whatever I can to represent and speak for that child to the court systems so that their future gets straightened out, so their future becomes right again.”

He volunteers at CASA of the Fox Cities.

Executive Director Dawn Gohlke said Hanley has “an amazing heart,” and connects well with the children he works with.

She said there’s a desperate need for more male advocates in the area like Hanley.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

“I want to say we have less than 10% of our volunteers are males, but 50 to 60% of our kids are male,” said Gohlke.

Hanley and other volunteers are provided with training and continued support. Items in CASA’s resource room, from games to books to socks, help advocates connect with their kids.

“The kids think that they’re playing. They’re having fun and bonding with their advocate,” explained Gohlke. “We’re actually looking for, do they know their colors? How high can they count? We’re looking for developmental milestones.”

Hanley used resources like footballs and baseballs to develop a bond with the children.

“A boy and I learned how to play chess together. That was kind of fun,” said Hanley.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

Advocates stay with a child until their situation is resolved or they turn 18. They attend court hearings with their kids and work to give them a voice.

When a child reaches age 12, the tables start to turn.

“The advocate then helps the child be empowered to share their voice so they can take an active role in their future,” said Gohlke.

Gohlke said kids with advocates are about 90% more likely to do better in school. Volunteers, such as Hanley, want to see the kids succeed after getting off to a rough start in life.

“They struggle. They’ve gone through traumatic situations on the home front and going through the entire judicial system, it’s very stressful on a young child,” said Hanley.

Hanley and CASA said they hope a few more volunteers step forward to help these vulnerable kids through a difficult process.

“You don’t need to have a background in child welfare,” explained Gohlke. “You just need to have a caring heart and a passion for kids that you want to make a difference and help support a child through a difficult time.”

CASA of the Fox Cities has a 6-week, 30-hour training session starting on Jan. 19 for anyone looking to become an advocate.