Advocating for children

KJ Torgerson serves as executive director of North Idaho CASA

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KJ Torgerson's on her phone in front of the downtown federal courthouse, trying to secure more money and stretch every dollar as far as it will go for North Idaho CASA.

After she gets off the phone, you can see it in her striking blue eyes —- these are challenging times for the program's CEO. She knows abused kids could be lost in the justice system if things don't change dramatically — and soon.

“For the first time, we're going to have to triage cases, which means we're going to have to prioritize some cases over others, turning some away,” Torgerson says. “I've only done that twice in my time working for CASA. It's very hard to accept. My name is more frequently going to be on the bottom of a court document that says, 'Withdraw'”

CASA is a national association provides Court-Appointed Special Advocates for abused or neglected children to provide them a voice in court and ultimately help them find a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes. The organization focuses on children under 12.  Roughly one third of North Idaho CASA's children are under the age of 3.

CASA served 400 North Idaho child victims from more than 200 families in 2016 — not one was turned away. Advocates are seeing more kids every year, increasing an average of 22 percent from 2011 to 2015.

“Last year, the caseload rose an unprecedented 35 percent in Kootenai County.  Funds were not budgeted for these additional 50 child victims,” she says.

The uncomfortable notion of not being able to help kids is something the Montana native never envisioned when she earned her biology degree from Stanford. Instead of the laboratory, Torgerson was drawn to the world of nonprofits, helping them run their operations.

“I have a passion for helping victims recover, starting with witnessing their stories,” she says. “I get to monitor every case we serve and I know there is so much more to their stories than what is in their files.”

Her mother, Patty Brown, provided the inspiration to help others. Her mom traveled to Vietnam over 20 years ago and met a 5-year-old boy named Taun living on the streets. She was so moved by his situation that she sponsored him and paid for his subsistence and education.

“I have gotten to know Taun and I consider him like a brother,” says Torgerson. “Today, he's a successful businessman in Vietnam.  My mom is my role model because she saw a problem and then she decided to do something about it and she made a difference.”

Torgerson hopes to pass that valuable lesson on to her own daughters, who are approaching their own high school years quickly.

“Taking action takes real commitment,” says Torgerson. “Part of CASA's struggle is that we are not allowed to use the stories or images of children we serve. This creates an emotional disconnect where people fail to see the need for ongoing financial support and thus we continually struggle to meet our budget.”

For more information, please visit the website at NorthIdahoCASA.org or call (208) 667-9165.

-Written by Marc Stewart, Director of Sponsored Content

 

 

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