They Need Someone to Speak on Their Behalf

Layla, 5, and her brother, Brian, 3, were abused and neglected at home. They were placed with their grandmother, an elderly woman who soon realized she was ill-equipped to care for two young children. Layla and Brian were moved to a foster home, the first in a series of five placements in six months. The one constant in the children’s lives was their CASA volunteer, Carole, who was the first to visit them in each foster home.

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With a sixth move pending, CASA Carole recommended during a court hearing that the children must be kept together in any placement. Shortly after Carole’s recommendation, the children were moved together to a new home, where they are thriving. #BeACASA

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.

 

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May Is Foster Care Awareness Month – Learn How You Can Assist a Youth in Need

May is National Foster Care Month, when we shine a spotlight on the more than 1,000 children and youth living in foster care in Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the 400,000 who face the same fate nationwide. Foster care is supposed to be a temporary solution, but unfortunately, for so many children, it has turned into a national epidemic. An epidemic that we can only solve through the collaboration and hard work of individuals, families, communities, organizations and legislators.

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While foster families are critical partners in providing homes and making connections for foster youth, you do not have to become a foster parent to help a youth succeed. The rest of us can also ensure that our youth living in foster care reach their fullest potential.

If you can volunteer on a regular basis, consider becoming a youth mentor or a court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer.

If you have less free time on your hands, attend or host a fundraising event that supports foster youth, donate services or goods to youth living in care, or lend a helping-hand to a foster parent or caregiver.

At the very least, you can talk to your friends and family about the need that exists right in our own community, or follow and contribute to the conversation on social media. Most importantly, do not look the other way when it comes to foster care, or think that it does not affect your family or community. Remember that anything we do now to support and lift up a child pays our community, and us, back ten times more in a secure, successful future for that youth.

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.

CASA Reward: Seeing a Child Reach Their Fullest Potential

Jacky is one of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children’s most tenured advocates – fighting for children’s rights for over eight years. She loves being a CASA. She loves that being a CASA allows her to use her knowledge as a school guidance counselor, but it also teaches her new skills. She loves when she sees the positive outcomes in her cases, and most of all she loves being a CASA because she loves the children.

Optimized-Fotolia_92496429_Subscription_Monthly_MA school guidance counselor when she started at CASA, Jacky’s experience was already grounded in guiding and assessing the needs of children. Now retired, she is very happy that she can still put her knowledge and practices to good use. Her knowledge of the education system has been invaluable when advocating for the educational needs of her children. On several occasions, Jacky’s knowledge of the education system and the Individual Education Plan (IEP) has helped foster parents. Jacky not only knows enough to ask for an IEP but also has the knowledge to contribute to the plan itself – which is crucial to a child who has not had a consistent caretaker.

Naturally welcoming, Jacky is friendly and communicates easily. Even so, she knows it can be awkward for children of any age to converse with an adult they do not know very well. Like a modern-day Mary Poppins (she has the British accent, too!), she uses conversational apps and games to get the children active and interested. Art books with open narratives are very useful. Tapping into her experience, Jacky says, “Having the children draw pictures and then express a narrative to go along with the picture is a really good way to gauge what and who is important to a child as well as the emotions attached to what is important.”

What she has learned by being a CASA is almost as interesting to her as the children she serves.  She credits CASA staff and the child welfare caseworkers for helping her work her way through the system and the paperwork. The family court system’s complexity decision making truly intrigues her. The computer work is the most challenging to her but she says the CASA staff makes themselves readily available to help.

What surprises Jacky the most is how fluid people’s lives are, how one variable sends a person’s life in a completely different direction. She is amazed at how good and bad decisions, and the reasons behind those decisions, can instantly change the direction of a child’s life. One case in particular that weighs heavy on her mind is a pair of siblings she advocated for – a toddler and an infant. They each lived with separate foster parents. The two foster homes were in the same town, just a few streets from each other. She visited both homes, but visitation between the two siblings was not granted, even though she advocated for it. So, she wonders, “Will these two siblings grow up blocks away from each other, possibly going to the same school, and not even know they are related?”

After her many years advocating, Jacky is taking a hiatus. Her most recent case closed and she is not going to take on another one right now, instead focusing on her daughter who just qualified for the Special Olympics’ Swim team. Even though she has temporarily stepped back from her CASA role, she will never lose the love she has for seeing a child reach their fullest potential.

 

casa_v_atca_redblue_rgb2Jacky is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Take a stand against child abuse and join the CASA Movement today!

AtlanticCapeCASA.org   Facebook.com/casa4children   twitter.com/casa4children   (609) 601-7800

 

National Volunteer Week: CASA Volunteers Listen First. Then They Act.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone doing extraordinary things through service.

This week honors the people and organizations that use volunteerism as a way to tackle society’s toughest challenges, spark change, and build stronger, more resilient communities.

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Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties is fortunate to count over 200 community volunteers working on behalf of children in foster care.

Nobody longs for a safe and loving family more than a child in foster care. As a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer, you are empowered by the courts to help make this dream a reality. CASA Volunteers not only bring positive change to the lives of these vulnerable children, but also their children and generations to come. In addition, in doing so, you will enrich your life as well.

Volunteers get to know the child by talking with everyone in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others. They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.

Nearly 700,000 children experience abuse or neglect each year. Instead of playing with neighbors and making happy family memories, they are attending court hearings, adjusting to new foster homes and transitioning to new schools. That is a heavy burden for a child to carry. With a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer dedicated to their case, America’s most vulnerable children will have someone speaking up for their best interests. With your support, more children will have the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving home.

You do not have to be a lawyer or a social worker to be a volunteer. We welcome people from all walks of life. We are simply looking for people who care about children and have common sense. As a volunteer, you are thoroughly trained and well supported by experienced advocates and professional staff to help you through each case.

Ready to Stand Up for a Child Who Needs You?

National Volunteer Week is a great time to get involved!  Volunteer Your Time to Change a Child’s Life: find out how by visiting www.AtlanticCapeCASA.org

A Couple Surrounded By Love, Gives Love To Others

Late in the year 2016, Ella and Malcolm received a postcard from Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. This small piece of mail, which easily could have become junk mail, has changed their lives.

10339604_877455062271759_8479904569277564162_nWhen Ella first received that postcard, she had never even heard of CASA. She showed it to Malcolm, who immediately thought CASA sounded like a very worthwhile organization. They were in complete agreement about the importance of standing up for the abused and neglected children in their communities. They liked the idea of being the voice for those children living in foster care who can go unheard. A woman of action, Ella registered them both for an Information Session.

By January 2017, they joined another 20 individuals in a training class to become CASA advocates. This diverse group shared one common goal: To become the eyes and ears of the family court judge for children living in foster care.

Married over 46 years, it was natural for them to team up and become CASA advocates together. “We found a volunteer opportunity that had meaning to us and one that we could do together. It was our intention to work as a team for these kids,” Ella shared.

The couple have always volunteered in their communities. Malcolm as a basketball coach, a Special Olympics board member and a career-trainer for the Opportunities Industrialization Center. Ella’s first volunteer experience was as for her local hospital when she was a high school student. After years of volunteer work for the American Cancer Society, Ella became their Lead Ambassador. They likely cannot remember a time when they were not involved in community service.

With three grown children of their own, they know the value of strong role models for raising children. Malcolm feels very strongly about the importance of male role models in a child’s life, and referred to one of his favorite Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Malcom and Ella knew how easy it would be for a child to fall through the cracks of the child welfare system and they were determined to do all that they could to keep this from happening. They committed themselves to the CASA training and at the end of 30 hours were sworn in as Volunteer Judiciaries by a family court judge. Like most CASA graduates, they were excited and anxious about their new roles as child advocates.

Their first case included six siblings, infant twins, a two-year-old girl, and a nine and a 12-year-old boy. “Working as a team with Ella has been great,” said Malcolm. Smiling he added, “I almost fired her once or twice.” They work well as a team and the children whom they advocate benefit from their shared viewpoints for what they believe are the best interest of the children.

The parents in their first case were eager to accept services that would help bring their family back together and gradually the family was reunified. “The kids were so excited,” Ella said. “In spite of what had happened, when you met those kids, you knew they were raised right…they were well-mannered, good kids.”

As experienced CASA advocates, they immediately accepted another case with three siblings placed with three foster families. They know that each situation is unique and that the children on this case may reunite with their parents, realize adoption or be cared for by a relative.

Whatever the outcome, Ella and Malcom will continue to share car rides to and from their child visits and keep in contact with all of the people in the children’s lives. They will discuss their findings and share opinions as they write their court reports and make recommendations that they believe will help each child succeed. They will come to know and truly care about each child, and through their generosity of time and spirit, will help make each child’s world a better place.

“When you have been blessed,” Malcolm said, “you have to bless others.”

 

casa_v_atca_redblue_rgb2Malcom and Ella are two of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Take a stand against child abuse and join the CASA Movement today!

 

AtlanticCapeCASA.org
Facebook.com/casa4children
Twitter.com/casa4children
(609) 601-7800

 

Early Childhood Trauma

In a 60 Minutes segment, which aired Sunday, March 11, Oprah Winfrey explored the long-term adverse effects of early childhood trauma with a leading authority in field of early childhood development.  Dr. Bruce Perry, psychiatrist and neuroscientist, discussed the complex issues and the technique of Trauma Informed Care to treat the maltreated and traumatized child.

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Dr. Perry stated, “If you have development trauma, the truth is you’re going to be at risk for almost any kind of physical health, mental health and social health problem that you can think of.”   Most interesting, and sad, is that research in neuroscience shows that “The very same sensitivity that makes you able to learn language ‘just like that!’ as a little infant, makes you highly vulnerable to chaos, threat, inconsistency, unpredictability and violence.  So, children are much more sensitive to developmental trauma than adults.”

A child raised in a healthy, nurturing and stable environment is more likely to have a well-wired brain.  Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.  A child raised in a chaotic home with uncertainty and violence, will have a brain that is wired differently.  Typically, these children are more vulnerable for a lifetime.  In fact, the CDC reports that these individuals are five times as likely to be depressed and have live spans shortened by 20 years.

Dr. Bruce Perry shaped “trauma informed care.” Trauma informed care focuses on “what happened.”  When mental health professionals focus on “What happened to you?” vs. “What’s wrong with you?”  before trying to fix it, it makes the client feel safe.  Under this type of care, clients report, “I felt understood.  I felt seen and heard.”

Dr. Perry points out that we cannot break the cycle without trauma informed care.  Perry says that the difference between a “bad childhood” and a “traumatic childhood” is that somebody helped – that is what makes the difference.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Take a stand against child abuse and join the CASA Movement today!

AtlanticCapeCASA.org
Facebook.com/casa4children   twitter.com/casa4children   (609) 601-7800

An Inspired Life

Maggie knows first-hand the tumult of a childhood spent in foster care. One of seven children, Maggie entered the foster care system at the age of two. But despite an unstable beginning, she is a remarkable young lady. At the age of 23, she has all the enthusiasm you would expect of one so young. What’s unexpected however, is her wisdom and her commitment to serving people.

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Maggie quickly counts off seven of the foster homes that she remembers; but said she can’t recall too much from her earliest days in care. She also quickly lists off the 12 schools she’s attended which include schools in Alabama, Nebraska, New Jersey and Michigan.

Maggie still carries a hint of her Southern accent. She speaks with deep gratitude of her adoptive parents who would “adopt these little black girls that looked nothing like them.”  She treasures a photo album – the only photos she has from her early childhood – entitled “My Little Margaret” given to her years later by her first grade teacher who was drawn to Maggie’s spirit.

That spirit is what defines Maggie, it guided her though foster care and it is what defines her life now. Unlike so many youth, who spent years in foster care, Maggie was somehow able to break away from the negative outcomes that have overwhelmed many foster youth – dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, homelessness, drug abuse and unemployment.

Certainly, her parents helped shape this young woman’s life by providing a supportive, loving home and giving her the opportunities to thrive. But Maggie attended 12 schools in four different states and still managed to graduate on time, with good grades. Each time a foster youth change schools, they usually loose three to six months of academic progress– which means that Maggie essentially lost 36 months – 3 years – of school, but still managed to graduate with her class. Truly an unbelievable achievement and a testament to Maggie’s remarkable spirit.

Thankfully, Maggie wanted to give back and help other foster youth reach their own potential – she was sworn in as a CASA advocate during her senior year in college. Maggie said, “My experiences as a foster child fuels a lot the reason I am a CASA.”

Just before Maggie’s 22nd birthday, she was assigned a CASA case with two young boys. As their CASA, Maggie ensured that the boys received all the services they needed. Her CASA court reports offered the judge recommendations in the best interest of the boys – which included keeping them together in the same foster home. She is thrilled that her recommendation of keeping the brothers together was ordered by the courts and is even more happy that the boys are now in the process of being adopted into a forever home.

When asked of her experience as a CASA, she admitted that sometimes it’s challenging. “Sometimes people don’t understand the role of a CASA,” Maggie said, “It can be hard to have your calls returned or schedule visits with the kids.” But, Maggie understands what needs to be done, and knows that these children need a CASA volunteer, like her.

“I know that everyone is doing their best, so I am not discouraged by a system that doesn’t always work smoothly, or move as fast as you want it to,” said Maggie. Instead, she is persistent with a positive attitude and a commitment to make sure her CASA children were not just a case number in a file.

“I know in my heart, I made a difference in these brothers’ lives. They are being adopted together, just like me and my sister were, so I know first-hand how important it is to stay with a sibling.”

For Maggie, being a CASA is about breaking the cycle. “You have to try. When you put out consistent effort, there will be the desired effect.”  At a young age, Maggie was inspired by the movie Amazing Grace about the politician, philanthropist and abolitionist, William Wilberforce.  Maggie said, “His passion and concern for other people was an inspiration to me for my life’s ambition of serving others.”

Wasting no time to share her spirit again, Maggie requested another CASA child.  She lights up as she anticipates meeting the 14-year-old girl who will be her next CASA case.  “I’ve always mentored older youth in my community, so I am very excited to meet her and advocate for her!

“I chose CASA because of my personal life experiences as a foster child, and my passion for helping others directly relates to CASA’s mission,” said Maggie. “I never had a CASA while I was in foster care, but I understand the role of a CASA volunteer from growing up for seven years in foster care. It’s a CASA who makes sure the decisions for the child reflect his/her interests, needs and safety and not just the goals or interests of third parties.

“A CASA is an objective advocate that gives special focus to a child or children on an individual level rather than on an institutional level. I want to be that person. I care about the person. I care about people and I want to have an impact on society. I will not be happy at the end of my life unless I have used my life to empower others.”

 

Maggie is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Take a stand against child abuse and join the CASA Movement today!

AtlanticCapeCASA.org
Facebook.com/casa4children   twitter.com/casa4children   (609) 601-7800