Earning Trust from Foster Children

After they saw a notice announcing a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) orientation in the newspaper, Dolores and Jeff wondered if this was an opportunity to act on the compassion they felt for the area’s children in need. They often felt impacted by the stories they read in the newspaper about the plight of children in Cape May and Atlantic Counties.

“I thought this was a chance for us to actually do something about the great need in our area,” says Dolores. So together, they became CASA volunteers and teamed up on their first assignment – a family of five children with enormous needs.

“Dolores wrote reports, I went to court hearings and for a while I saw the boys and she saw the girls in the family,” says Jeff.  Dolores notes that the division of labor allowed them to address the significant needs of the children who had suffered neglect, abuse and instability among other issues over their short lives. The children had moved around a lot, and two of the kids had special needs that required alternative interventions.

“It takes a lot for these children to trust after what they have been through,” Dolores says. She patiently worked on establishing trust, especially with the oldest girl. Jeff explained that the older children presented unique issues. However, he says being a contractor helped him deal with the case, “Problem-solving, moving things forward and seeing things through to completion are skills I have through my work.”

Dolores also brings her nursing-related training to bear in working with this family, “First of all, teamwork is critical in nursing,” she says. Also developing (care) plans, listening and communication are all part of tool bag that Dolores used during the four years she and Jeff have advocated on behalf of these children. For them it is a complementary team effort.

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Jeff and Dolores encourage others to get involved and are also honest about the commitment it takes. Yet they are inspired by the little things they get back, such as the times a judge listens intently and considers their recommendations in the best interests of the children. And recently, they attended a birthday party at which all five children were reunited. “Being there and seeing them together and smiling was gratifying,” says Dolores.

The couple has seen first-hand the resources that are invested by many in trying to find safety and stability for children in our area. They believe that CASA and other organizations, such as Big Brother Big Sister, can improve outcomes.

Jeff and Dolores believe that the minor inconveniences that sometimes occur are nothing compared to the knowledge that you may make even a small difference in children’s lives.


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

 

The Brightest Moments: Seeing the Children in a Good Situation

Before moving to Cape May in 2014, children occupied a central part of Sarah’s life in northern New Jersey, where she was an elementary school teacher and mother of five children. When she retired and moved more permanently to southeastern New Jersey, she considered how she could continue to influence children’s lives as a volunteer. Sarah got that answer one day in church when she heard a discussion about organizations the church supported and what they did. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children was one those organizations.

Shortly after that, Sarah read a newspaper article about CASA and decided to attend an information session. Since then she has helped navigate the cases of nine children living in foster care. “Teachers bring the ability to coordinate with many different parties in the best interests of children’s academic success. That skill translates well when working as a CASA volunteer who must coordinate between the child, parents, resource parents, the court and case workers among others to find the best possible plan for the child,” said Sarah.

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Sarah notes that building relationships is key to fostering trust. Trust ensures that all parties involved feel comfortable that the recommendations CASA’s make are the best possible for the child. She often asks herself the question, “Did I help to break the cycle so this child has an opportunity for a better life?”

Sarah admits she has learned about the hurdles these children face. “I lived and taught in an affluent area and until you sit with people in more difficult circumstances, you can’t really understand their struggles,” she said.

Sarah’s brightest moments are when she sees the children end up in a good situation – attending an adoption ceremony or seeing children reunited with parents who have overcome their obstacles.

Now as a Peer Coach, Sarah expands her sphere of influence by mentoring other new advocates as they begin their first cases. She loves that being a CASA is a hands-on activity, actually working with the children of Cape May and Atlantic Counties. “If you are a people person and like building relationships and meeting people, then CASA may be a volunteer opportunity that appeals to you,” Sarah said.

She sometimes thinks she gets more out of being a CASA than the children she serves. Nine children, who are now in more stable situations – adopted or with birth parents – who may just think otherwise.

 


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.