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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

A CASA Volunteers’ Two Year Journey with Two Brothers

Two young boys – 2 ½ and 7 years old – sit huddled on the couch in their living room watching the police burst through the door and arrest their mom and dad for selling drugs.  The boys are taken by the caseworker to a foster home, the first of five they will move through over the next 18 months.

The little boy cries and moans most of the time and seems unable to speak more than a barely comprehensible word or two. Despite efforts by subsequent foster parents he has no interest in using a toilet and so must wear diapers all the time. When he turns 3 he is evaluated by the child study team and found to be functioning at the developmental age of a two year old. He continues to be withdrawn and the crying often turns into screaming.

His older brother believes it is somehow his fault that they were removed from their home and so tries to “be good” so he can go back home. His school records indicate that he has repeated kindergarten twice and has not been recommended to advance to first grade. An evaluation by the child study team indicates he has specific learning disabilities. He says he doesn’t like school but his teacher is nice.

Flash forward two years –

The little boy is laughing (Laughing!) as he animatedly talks about the game he is playing. He speaks clearly and in sentences.  He smiles and looks directly in my eyes as he talks. He talks about preschool, a party and the latest funny thing his brother did.

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His brother shows me his report card. He attends second grade and receives some special education services. He says school is okay now. His teachers say he is a “nice, kind young man” who “seems to enjoy learning.” He tells me he is looking forward to this weekend when he and his brother will be sleeping over at his mom’s house – one of the first steps in returning to live with her permanently. He says: “I’m going home!”

Yes – thanks to the concerted efforts of all the foster parents, therapists, child study team members, teachers and caseworkers – after two years, five foster homes, and four school district transfers – they are going home.  As for me, I can’t even find the words to express the joy and gratitude I feel for the small role I played in all of this.  It has been just an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience.

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.

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.

 

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