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Breakfast honors CASA volunteers

by Tom Hasslinger
| April 9, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - The children were strapped into their car seats, left in the kitchen, for days at a time.

The back of their heads were bald, the hair rubbed away from shifting their heads in the seat.

Their mom wasn't there.

The older of the two, Jasmine, 2 at the time, wasn't strapped in. She would crawl through the cupboards to feed her younger sister, Angela, 6 months old then.

"It's hard," said KJ Torgerson, speaking about the cases she works as a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates, the nonprofit that dedicates itself to ensuring children removed from their homes are placed in safe, stable quarters. "When you write the reports out it's hard because you have to write out every detail for the judge."

But it's in those details that the children's voices are heard.

And what makes the 106 CASA volunteers instrumental across North Idaho.

"I can tell you the child is always the loser," said Fonda Jovick, an attorney who works high-conflict cases that often involve the work of CASA volunteers, in the legal system that sometimes leaves children without the protection they need.

"The judges wouldn't hear the best interest of the child without that CASA volunteer."

Holding its fourth annual Ray of Hope Breakfast on Thursday at The Coeur d'Alene Resort, CASA celebrated the people who make life-changing decisions in those children's lives while raising money to ensure the program continues its success battling a cyclical problem that hits everywhere - even close to home.

"We all know the world is not a perfect place," said Laurie Thomas, CASA board president. "We know we have a tough message."

That message is more needs to be done to help children escape broken, violent homes.

Last year, CASA served 721 child victims.

Four of those victims were hospitalized for five days or more.

One died.

Four-year-old children were the most likely to be abused.

"I almost lost it," said Sara Fladeland after the slide show was presented with those statistics, accompanied by pictures of children bruised, bloodied, in casts or hospital beds. "That was tough to see. Just the visual of it. It's one thing to hear the message but it brings it home when you see it."

When a child is exposed to abuse at an early age, the chances of the child ending up in treatment programs, therapy or incarceration are drastically increased, costing the country billions of dollars.

The need could be rising locally, too.

CASA is worried more children could be subject to abuse as a ripple effect from parents losing jobs in the weak economy.

In 2009, there were 78 reports of child abuse in Coeur d'Alene, up from 72 the year before. Domestic violence was up to 317 reports, nearly 100 more than the 230 cases in 2008.

The goal of the breakfast was to raise $100,000 for the program that recruits, trains and supervises volunteers to speak for the best interests of abused and abandoned children in court.

It had raised $55,000, with more expected to come in, by Thursday afternoon.

And Torgerson said the battle is worth it. Difficult, but worth it.

For each child saved there is the feeling of hope, she said, like with the two children who were strapped in their child seat for days at a time.

Their adoption ceremony is at the end of the month.

"I'll be there saying goodbye to Angela and Jasmine," Torgerson said, "but saying hello to their bright futures."

To volunteer or donate, call 667-9165.

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