Youth Pursues Dream of Going to College with Help of CASA Volunteer

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Allan, a semi-retired pharmacist, read a book years ago that affected him profoundly, “Throw Away Children”, by Judge Lisa Richette. In her clarion call for reform, the author recounts many heart-wrenching cases of children who fell through the cracks of the juvenile court system – children who are left feeling unprotected, unloved and bereft of hope or opportunity. Allan remembered those stories when his wife, Bobbie, mentioned that she thought he would be a good Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

“She thinks I can get things done and some of these kids just need someone to help them get things done,” Allan explained. “I just naturally advocate for those who need help. When my mother was in a nursing home, I was there all hours ensuring she was well cared for. I bring those skills to my role as a CASA.”

In February 2018, this naturally gifted advocate attended a CASA training and was assigned his first child, a teenager who had bounced around in the system and had recently been rejected by his mother again. Allan is the first one to say he was lucky to get this young man as his first CASA child: “Despite all the hurdles this young man experienced during his childhood, he was motivated to do well in school and to strive for a better life. He just needed some assistance to get into a situation that was supportive and stable.”

One of the many roles CASA volunteers serve is to navigate the complex system in order to get the best possible outcome for the children. They coordinate with social workers, educators, the courts and different agencies, an often daunting task even for seasoned professionals. Working with others, Allan’s ability to network and advocate helped him cut through some of the bureaucracy to see that his child got the resources he needs to pursue his dream of going to college. Allan also worked well with the young man’s social worker to get him into a stable environment. The judge assigned to the case commented on their effective teamwork on behalf of the child. Lately, Allan has been helping the young man with college applications.

“He blossomed from a reticent child into a young man who has been better able to confide in me and to trust again. It is gratifying that he wants to study social work so he can help others,” Allan said. Allan encourages those who desire to make a difference to explore becoming a CASA. “I made my difference,” he said. Thanks to Allan’s advocacy one child, who could have fallen through the cracks, is on his way to realizing his dreams.

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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Campus Moving Day

As my friends are all dropping off their nearly adult children at colleges and universities this month, I am reminded of my parents dropping me off at college for the first time. I stuffed everything that I could into the gigantic trunk of my father’s baby blue Caddy – which was a lot – and traveled north to Rhode Island where I would begin my life as an “adult” – or so I thought – unfettered to parents, making my own daily decisions. This was what I had been waiting for.

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So, we drove and drove and finally arrived with all of the other freshman, whose families had packed their cars and driven distances great and small to give their children a better opportunity, maybe one that they hadn’t even had for themselves. Families filled the whole campus and not once did I ever think that a freshman might not have a family. The notion never even crossed my mind. I am sure that there were kids moving in the same day as I, without a family, without a trunk filled with their most prized possessions.

At the time, of course, I was not looking at my first day on campus through my parents’ eyes, or through the sacrifice that they made for me. However, as I see my friends making the same drive now, I finally see it through their eyes – the optimism of what is to come for their children, being proud of their accomplishments, and worried over the missteps that they will – undoubtedly – make along the way. Knowing that their relationship with their children will forever change the day that they leave them at their dorm room and drive away.

As I think about that day now, I have a different perspective. Not just from the experiences of my friends taking their children to college, but because of my work with an organization that advocates for youth living in foster care.

With this new viewpoint, today I think about the thousands of kids moving onto campus across the country this month, I think of the many foster youth who will not even have that opportunity – 70 percent of foster youth want to go to college, but only 39 percent enroll (Courtney, Terao, & Bost, 2004). I think about the only 10 percent who will graduate with an advanced degree by the time they turn 25. (Courtney et al., 2011; Pecora et al., 2006). I think about all of the foster youth who will drop out of college after their first year (Day, Dworsky, Fogarty, & Damashek, 2011) and I think we can do better; we must do better for these youth.

Once in college, foster youth struggle with the same matters that have challenged them their entire lives – making and keeping friends, mental health, lower academic achievement, getting and keeping employment, lack of healthcare, and, poor independent living planning. Add to the mix that many of these youth do not have the financial resources or strong adult role models to help guide them through difficult times and you have a recipe for adversity.

With all of these factors creating a barrier to a college education, one of the most significant is the lack of emotional support. These kids just do not have the support, that I had, or my friends kids have, to make it – only 34% of youth leaving foster care report a long‐term significant relationship or mentor (Munson & McMillen, 2009). Supportive adult connections – mentors, teachers, CASA volunteers, community leaders – are critical to a foster youth’s success, not just in college, but also throughout life.

These connections will empower a youth to realize their own potential, help them through challenging situations, point out resources and, help ensure that they too have a trunk full of their most prized possessions and the tools that they need to begin their successful “adult” life – after all, isn’t that what we want for every youth?

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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.

 

References

Courtney, M., Terao, S., & Bost, N. (2004). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Conditions of youth preparing to leave state care. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Day, A., Dworsky, A., Fogarty, K., & Damashek, A. (2011). An examination of post‐secondary retention and graduation among foster care youth enrolled in a four‐year university. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(11), 2335–2341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.08.004

Hayes Piel, Megan (2018) Challenges in the Transition to Higher Education for Foster Care Youth https://doi.org/10.1002/cc.20288

Munson, M. R., & McMillen, J. C. (2009). Natural mentoring and psychosocial outcomes among older youth transitioning from foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(1), 104–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2008.06.003

Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., O’Brien, K., White, C. R., Williams, J., Hiripi, E., … Herrick, M. A. (2006). Educational and employment outcomes of adults formerly placed in foster care: Results from the Northwest foster care alumni study. Children & Youth Services Review28(12), 1459–1481. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.04.003

Pecora, P. J., Williams, J., Kessler, R. C., Hiripi, E., O’Brien, K., Emerson, J., … Torres, D. (2006). Assessing the educational achievements of adults who were formerly placed in family foster care. Child & Family Social Work11(3), 220–231. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2206.2006.00429.x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Tiddlywinks Helped a Family Reconnect

David, 3, and his sister, Allison, 2, were placed in foster care when their mother entered a year-long substance abuse program on the West coast. A CASA volunteer was appointed to their case. Unable to visit their mother, the children’s memories of her began to fade. Later, their mother, successfully discharged from her program, contacted child welfare to arrange visitation with David and Allison. She feared they would not remember her and that the reunion would be awkward. She shared her concerns with the CASA volunteer, who suggested she break the ice by playing the children’s favorite game – Tiddlywinks.

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The mother was unfamiliar with the game, but the CASA volunteer taught her how to play. When David and Allison arrived for their visit, they were thrilled to find their mother and CASA volunteer engaged in the game. The children joined in, and the CASA volunteer quietly excused herself from the room. Visits with their mother continued and eventually, David, Allison, and their mother were permanently reunited.

More CASA volunteers are needed.
Learn how you can become a CASA. https://atlanticcapecasa.org/getinvolved/

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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 Role of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer

What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer? A CASA volunteer is an individual appointed by the family court to advocate for children placed in foster care as a result of abuse or neglect with the goal of finding them a safe and permanent home.

What does a CASA volunteer do? Most importantly, the CASA visits the child regularly and establishes a relationship with the child.

The CASA volunteer also communicates with all parties involved with the family such as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P, formerly DYFS), the family courts, law advocates, school personnel, medical professionals, foster parents, and, biological parents.

The CASA reviews all information collected from the various sources and makes recommendations to the judge as to what would be in the best interest of the child.

Why did you become involved with CASA? I wanted to become involved in a volunteer activity that would help someone, as well as being a satisfying experience for me. I learned about CASA through a friend who is a CASA volunteer and decided it was an extremely worthwhile cause for me to give my time and energy.

How important is the work of a CASA in the life of an abused and neglected child? I believe the work of a CASA is tremendously important in the life of abused and neglected children. The CASA is the one person in the child’s life who can focus on that particular child. They are a consistent adult during a time when other adults may be in and out of their lives, and they help put all the pieces together in an effort to more quickly facilitate finding a safe, permanent home for the child.

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What are the greatest rewards of being a CASA volunteer? I find the most rewarding experiences are the interactions with the children. Getting to know them, and letting them know that they can trust me. Their trust in me allows them to open up and talk to me, as they may not with anyone else. This trust is how I can best advocate for them, making sure that their concerns and wishes are heard by the family court judge. It takes time to develop trust on the part of the children. However, once it is there, it is a wonderful feeling to see that the children look forward to your visits and share their life with you.

The greatest gratification is when a CASA has seen a case through to permanency and the child or children are in a safe and happy home.

What are the greatest challenges? Working with people whose lives are in turmoil is rather challenging. I think learning how to relate to people who may be living in a situation that is not in one’s realm of experience is probably the greatest challenge.

Why should others get involved? Helping a child is one of our most basic instincts. If a child is standing in the middle of the road, would you stop to help them? If a child falls, would you not stoop to pick them up? Children in foster care are standing in the middle of the road, they have fallen, and an adult can help lead them to safety. The CASA volunteer is that adult and right now 35% of the children living in foster care in Atlantic and Cape May Counties do not have that guidance or support – and they need it.

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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.

 

 

 

 

Forever Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes

From dedicated foster parents, to a biological grandmother single-handedly raising her grandchildren, it is a family’s love and support that makes them picture perfect. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, more than 1,000 children are living in foster care over the course of a year, and with the help of a CASA volunteer, lingering in the child welfare system is not an option.

back-light-black-background-business-907486Once a child is removed from their home due to abuse and neglect, three different outcomes can arise:  reunification, kinship legal guardianship, or adoption. Behind each court docket, a child is hoping for a forever family, and here are their stories, as told by their CASA volunteer.

Reunification
When CASA volunteer, Ann met the little boy on her case, he was in a body cast to properly mend his broken bones. After being injured at home, he was removed from his mother and placed in care with a cousin. “When I first got involved with the case, he was delayed in speech, mobility, and potty training,” Ann said. Reunification with his biological mother did not seem to be a viable option.

Ann ensured he received special services and was enrolled in special education classes. For the first time, he was not merely surviving but thriving. While he progressed, his biological mother was determined to have her child back home. “From parenting classes to counseling, she did everything she was advised to do,” Ann said. “She worked hard to get her boy back.”

CASA Ann continued to visit with the case workers, foster parents, and the biological mother, and despite the obstacles, reunification with mother and child became more than a hope – it became a reality. After much work and support, the boy’s mother was ready to make a home again for her son and he finally returned to his mother’s arms and his forever family. “Reunification is a good option when the parent and child have a warm, comfortable relationship, and the parent will do whatever it takes to get the child back,” Ann said. “Luckily in this case, his mother was once again able to provide a safe, loving home and I could fully support him being returned to her care.”

Kinship Legal Guardianship
As a cockroach crawled across her foot, CASA volunteer Kathy knew this was not a safe home for children. Brother and sister, ages 5 and 3, were removed from the bug-infested apartment and safe from their father’s drinking, after neighbors called child services. When CASA Kathy took the case the children were delayed mentally, and although they were safe in their grandmother’s home, they were still swatting away invisible bugs as they struggled to sleep. “The parents were not emotionally capable of caring for their children, and they would show up in preschool with diapers that were days old,” Kathy said.

The children adored their grandmother, and the transition to their new home was smooth, but parental visitations proved to be problematic. “When the children had visited with their parents, the next day at school the boy would be agitated and crazy, and the daughter was nervous,” Kathy said. Finally, the biological parents abruptly decided to move out of the state, leaving their children’s court case unfinished and their grandmother with the responsibility of raising the children on her own.

“There was no question where these children should be; It was a no brainer, and I made clear in my reports that I supported the grandmother caring for the children,” Kathy said. Their grandmother happily became the children’s Kinship Legal Guardian (KLG). “This (KLG) is a great option. Why go into foster care if you have a caring family member who is willing to take on raising the children. In this case the grandmother was more than able, and the children adored her,” Kathy said.

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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.

 

Summertime in Foster Care

Finally, the end of the school year, it’s summertime!

Childhood summers prompt memories of the beach, heading off to summer camp and playing outside with friends until dinner. Summer days should be for making lifelong, cherished memories.

When you live in foster care, however, just because the school year ends, does not mean that your life is any less upended or uncertain. Unfortunately, for children living in foster care, the normally carefree summer months can signal more uncertainty and despair.

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The little things that make the end of the school year special – making plans with friends, signing yearbooks, and looking forward to family vacations – can be a source of increased anxiety and depression for youth living in foster care.

Changing of schools and homes happen frequently for foster youth, meaning many youth do not know if they will be living in the same home next month, let alone going to the same school the following September. Frequent moving also negatively influences educational achievement – on average every time a youth moves, they lose three to six months of academic progress, which further alienates them from their peers.

Foster youth may enter a new school mid-year, so they might not even be part of the yearbook, their picture missing from the smiling-faced rows of their classmates. Entering school late, changing schools or moving as much as foster youth do also hampers their ability to create bonds that lead to lasting friendships, especially when their classmates may already have deep friendship bonds from growing up together.

As for vacations or any activity that takes a foster youth out of their placement, approval from the courts must be sought. That means that for a foster youth to attend summer camp or visit a sibling, who lives in a different foster home in a different town, is at the mercy of a slow-moving court system that is buckling under the weight of too many children under their care. This process halts the freedom of planning trips or the ease of participating in activities that could a provide much-needed distraction for the youth.

These challenges can lead children and youth living in foster care to see the summer months as an extension of ambiguity, confusion and isolation, rather than as a time to enjoy.

For these reasons, we must continue to fight and advocate for all foster youth so that they realize a permanent home – reunited with their family, placed with relatives or adopted as quickly as possible – so they too can enjoy the lazy, sun-drenched days of summer and create their own lifelong summertime memories.

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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.

Change a Foster Youth’s World

My siblings and I were all exposed to prenatal drug and alcohol use at birth. For the first 12 years of my life, I was never allowed to be a child. My mother beat me every day – sometimes so severely I thought my last breath was imminent. At 12, I was desperate to find help and confessed the abuse to a coach. Shortly after, we entered foster care.

During our time in foster care, we relied on our CASA volunteer. She comforted and guided us through the process. She was a constant in our lives and our voice in court.

The support of my CASA volunteer enabled me to see my past as a source of strength. It allowed me to leave the suffering behind and graduate valedictorian of my high school class.

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My focus and worldview – believing that we must rise every time we fall – is due to the attention that my siblings and I received from our CASA volunteer.

She transformed our lives.

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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.