National CASA Hosts 30th Annual Conference in Chicago

Chicago Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Mary Ellen Caron, Ph.D., Welcomes 1,500 Participants; Country Music Sensation Jimmy Wayne as Keynote Speaker

Mar 18, 2011, 18:03 ET from CASA

CHICAGO, March 18, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association will host its 30th annual conference, "Building Hope for Youth," from March 19-22, 2011, at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. Commissioner Mary Ellen Caron, Ph.D., for the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, will provide an official welcome to the attendees. Famous country recording artist and foster care advocate Jimmy Wayne will give the keynote address.

Each year, more than 1,500 CASA staff, board members, volunteers, judges, attorneys and other child welfare professionals from across the country gather to connect with peers and learn from leaders in the field. Conference attendees learn from top-notch faculty leading more than 60 workshops and institutes, attend inspiring general session panels, network with like-minded volunteers and professionals, and take advantage of an exhibit hall filled with useful resources.

"For many abused and neglected children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives," said Commissioner Caron.  "The resources and training offered at this year's conference will provide the tools necessary to help foster the personal development and provide the much-needed positive influence every young person needs to stay on track."

The conference aims to strengthen volunteer voices by enabling them to build skills and acquire tools that will enhance their ability to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children. It also helps conference attendees explore practices that enable them to better serve all children in their communities and continue the journey towards cultural competency. Those who attend also develop essential leadership skills and fortify their commitment by engaging with peers and presenters.

"We are thrilled and honored to have both Jimmy Wayne and Commissioner Caron joining CASA for our annual conference in Chicago this year," said Michael Piraino, CEO of the National CASA Association. "We greatly appreciate their tireless efforts to give a voice to and help the children in our foster care system. Their work is an inspiration to all of us."

As an alum of the foster care system, country music artist Jimmy Wayne gives tirelessly of his time to support older youth in the child welfare system. He spent seven months of 2010 on the road to raise awareness for homeless youth and children in care. Wayne walked more than 1,700 miles from Nashville to Phoenix, talking with supporters, the media and lawmakers along the way. His "Meet Me Halfway" campaign was profiled on television, in newspapers and magazines nationwide, including USA Today, Ladies Home Journal, and People magazine.

For more information about the conference, please contact Tim Smith at, or visit to view the conference program.

About National CASA

In 1977 a Seattle judge, concerned over making decisions about abused and neglected children's lives without sufficient information, conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak for their safety and wellbeing, and to help them find safe and permanent homes where they can thrive. So successful was this program, that judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates. Today, almost 1,000 CASA/GAL offices operate in 49 states, with nearly 70,000 men and women serving as CASA/GAL volunteers.

For additional information about becoming a CASA volunteer, call toll free (800) 628-3233 or visit CASA volunteers must be at least 21 years of age and successfully pass a background check; participate in an in-depth 30-hour volunteer training class; have good oral and written communication skills in order to provide objective recommendations to the court; and upon receipt of their first case, willingly commit to see the case closed, which typically takes a year and a half.

About Mary Ellen Caron

Mary Ellen Caron, Ph.D., was named commissioner of the new Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) in January of 2009 by Mayor Richard M. Daley. The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services is a consolidation of several of the City's former human service departments and works to provide a continuum of support for Chicago's vulnerable residents, beginning at birth through the senior years. The department provides both direct and indirect services through a staff of about 1,000, 350 delegate agencies, 18 senior centers, and six community service centers.

From 2004 through 2008, Caron served as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Children and Youth Services, now part of DFSS, which provided community-based services that promoted the well-being and successful development of Chicago's youngest residents, while strengthening families and their communities.

Previously, Caron was a special assistant to the chief executive officer, Arne Duncan, of the Chicago Board of Education.

About Jimmy Wayne

On January 1, 2010, singer Jimmy Wayne began a 1700 mile cross country journey to raise awareness of the plight of foster children who aged out of the system at 18 years old.  Equipped with no support system, an oftentimes lackluster education and no money, these young people often find themselves homeless.  Jimmy was himself a foster child and can relate to these experiences first hand. In December 2009, Wayne was coming off of one of the most successful couple of years of his musical career-- he had charted a three week #1 record, and just wrapped a tour with Brad Paisley, which had placed him in some of the country's biggest and most prestigious venues, including Madison Square Garden.  

But even with all of that professional success, Wayne felt there was something missing.  He determined that he had been so busy he hadn't been able to spend the time giving back as he typically did. Through the years, Wayne had performed at a number of benefits to raise money for organizations that assisted foster children.  But as he saw it, nothing had really changed over the years, despite the best intentions of those trying to help, especially with the aging out dilemma. So he decided he needed to do something on a grand scale, to highlight the problem and get people talking.  He developed his Meet Me Halfway campaign, and began walking from Nashville TN to Phoenix AZ, all the while talking about the reasons why with the people he met along the way, the media and even lawmakers.

Wayne spent a total of seven months of 2010 on the road, and his efforts on behalf of foster children seem to be paying off. California recently passed AB 12, which raised the age from 18 to 21 for children to be in foster care. Wayne had taken time from the walk to speak to the California lawmakers about his own experiences as a foster child who was homeless for a time, He was featured on the CBS Television special A Home For The Holidays in December 2010, telling his story.  Howard Books will publish Wayne's first novella this year, titled Paper Angels and inspired by his childhood. It is set to come out in November. Wayne is currently writing new songs based on his experiences of walking across America.