Community Members Can Make Life Better for Vulnerable Children

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and our attention rightly turns to ways we can support children who have experienced abuse or neglect. According to the US Children’s Bureau, 687,000 children lived in foster care in the United States due to abuse or neglect in 2018. According to Kids Count New Jersey, nearly 500 children and youth lived in foster care in Atlantic and Cape May Counties during the same year.

For children to thrive despite abuse or neglect, resilience is the key. The most common factor in developing resilience, according to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, is having a stable relationship with a supportive adult.

The child holding a red heart

That is where Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Atlantic and Cape May County steps in. We recruit, train and support volunteers who get to know the children and their families, and advocate for those children’s needs in court. Our volunteers are part of an expansive network of 93,300 volunteers across the country who care deeply about children and are working to make life better for those children living in foster care

The children that CASA serves have often been disappointed or hurt by the adults in their lives. Parental drug abuse, and the child maltreatment that is often associated with drug abuse, accounted for more than one third of child removals nationwide in 2018. For children living in these situations, they become accustomed to being over looked and it is difficult for them to trust or open up to others – even those who may be able to help them.

By developing relationships with these children and advocating for their needs, CASA volunteers can make a major impact in mitigating the long-term damage from abuse or neglect.

Although babies are at the highest risk for maltreatment, older youth are most in need of advocates. Nearly 20 percent of children in foster care nationally are age 15 or older. In Atlantic and Cape May Counties, that number is 12 percent. Experiencing abuse or neglect has long-term consequences for these youth.

The US Children’s Bureau has found that at age 17, more than one quarter of youth in foster are referred for substance abuse treatment or counseling at some point. By age 21, 20 percent of youth who were in foster care at age 17 had been incarcerated within the prior two years. Additionally, by age 21, 22 percent of former foster youth had given birth to or fathered a child and 42 percent experienced homelessness at some point.

A stable relationship with a supportive adult – like a CASA volunteer – can help children do well even when they have faced significant hardships. At age 17, 94 percent of youth in foster care reported that they had a supportive adult in their lives who they could rely on for advice or emotional support. Because of this, we continue to have great hope for these youth despite the long odds against them.

Nationwide, CASA programs serve approximately one-third of older youth in foster care. In Atlantic and Cape May Counties, 94 percent of foster youth have a CASA volunteer. Our volunteers undergo training to understand the impact of trauma on children. They advocate for services that promote healing and help children build resilience. The work CASA volunteers do is life changing, and sometimes lifesaving.

Especially now, as we are experiencing a global health crisis, foster youth need advocates. Many of our children are from vulnerable populations who will be dramatically affected by this pandemic – losing the meals they depend upon at school, missing school lessons for lack of internet, or simply increasing the anxiety in children already traumatized by their experience.

Additionally, we have to consider the children not yet assigned a CASA volunteer, or those who will enter the system while this crisis is still unfolding. We need to ensure that those children will also have the benefit of a CASA volunteer to advocate for their best interest – especially during this complex time and long after this crisis ends.

Visit https://atlanticcapecasa.org/getinvolved/ to start the process now.

 


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.

Inflection Point

Joseph was the community relations point person while he was working as an executive for a multi-national corporation in the Philadelphia region. The tri-state area United Way leader was speaking at a fundraiser about shifting donation strategies to charities that could make a difference at key moments in peoples’ lives. She called this the “inflection point,” where help had the potential to make a meaningful difference at a critical time in a person’s life. When Joe retired and began researching where he might invest his own time and talents, he used the “inflection point” philosophy to guide his choice. When he learned about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), he found a fit where he thought he could influence outcomes in a positive way.

AM16757-1At first Joe and his wife, Mary Beth, who trained together as CASA volunteers, teamed to take on a complicated case involving five children who were temporarily housed with a relative.

The relative had stepped up to help the children in an emergent situation.

Joe explained, “The state’s goal is to reunite children, where possible, with the parents. CASA’s goal is always to do what is in the best interests of the children. So, my wife established rapport with the children, and I concentrated on working with the many adults who get involved in these cases – from the parents to the case workers to the special needs teachers to the medical professional and those in the judicial system. It takes a lot to get the information needed from many sources – you need to pursue it aggressively to make sure the children have the resources they need.”

Joe cites three key ingredients to making a difference as a CASA: 1. Influence management; 2. Building relationships, and; 3. Dogged determination. Joe demonstrated these traits as he advocated on behalf of those five children, often chasing down the resources the children needed when other doors were closed.

CASA does not always get the credit for their role in influencing outcomes but Joe says that the rewards of this work are intrinsic. He felt proud when the Deputy Attorney General in one case proposed to the judge to use his CASA report to guide the hearing because she knew it would be an accurate representation of the situation. The ultimate reward is knowing that you helped create a better physical, educational and emotional environment to improve their chances to thrive. “This work would not get done without CASA,” Joe said, “and CASA gets to do this critical work at “inflection points” 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.

A Natural Advocate

Bendelon is a natural advocate for children.  Her career as a teacher and social worker in the schools prepared her well for her role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

“I saw how many of foster children’s issues weren’t being addressed, mostly because the case workers have so much on their plates,” says CASA Bendelon. “Some of the children suffered from low self esteem and may have trouble reaching their full potential.”

Being a CASA has been a way of Bendelon continuing her lifelong work of helping children. Her first case was very gratifying because the child, who was given up at birth, was adopted by his foster parents. The child wouldn’t endure what so many others in the system do – being shifted from one situation to the next. “I was happy he ended up with the only ‘parents’ he had known since birth. That was a positive outcome,” says CASA Bendelon.

Her most recent case involves three children from the same family.  They are all on track to be adopted by their foster families. She is working with the families so that the children get to see each other even though the two youngest are with one family and the oldest is living with another.

Moral Development

CASA Bendelon went to the school of the thirteen year-old boy, “I told him I was his advocate. I was here for him,” she says.  “He really opened up to me and asked me tough questions about his birth mother. I told him she loved him enough to give him a chance with his prospective adoptive parents.”  The boy was really self aware and showed appreciation for the foster parents, who are in the process of adopting him. CASA Bendelon shared with him that “where you start doesn’t have to be where you end.”  She is confident he has a chance for a better life.

“I am a people person. It helps me since CASA’s have to talk to many people in advocating for the children,” CASA Bendelon says. She thinks being committed to the well being of the children first and foremost is paramount and sometimes that means being assertive, too.  Echoing a CASA theme, she says, “I am here for the child.”

 


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.

 

We All Have a Role to Play in Ending Child Abuse

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

2019 CAP Month_Organic Social_Static Facebook_1

By the time you finish reading this, more than 30 cases of child abuse will be reported to authorities nationwide. By the end of today, that number will swell past 9,000. Four of those children will die at the hands of their abuser. All in a single day.

When we take stock of these sobering statistics it is easy to be overwhelmed and to ask, “What can I possibly do to make a difference?”

The answer is that everybody can play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect by becoming advocates for children. Donate money, offer pro-bono support, become a mentor, or advocate with organizations that help children and families, like Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children.

CASA advocates stand up for abused and neglected children who are now living in foster care. CASA volunteers are people just like you – teachers, business people, retirees, grandparents who are simply willing to help a child in need. These advocates give children a voice in an overburdened child welfare system and can help break the cycle of abuse and neglect by helping children find safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible.

Children with a CASA are half as likely to re-enter the foster care system, and have improved educational achievement – making a profound difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children across the country and nearly 700 children right here in Atlantic and Cape May Counties. Nevertheless, the increased number of children in care and the great need for advocates leaves many children without an advocate to fight for their rights.

While not everyone can be a CASA volunteer, everyone can be a child advocate.

Here are some steps you can take to make our community safer for our children: Keep the child abuse hotline number nearby, 1-800 NJ Abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you can report your suspicions confidentially; Donate or volunteer for a social service agency that helps children who have been abused or neglected, and; Educate yourself – and others – about the devastating toll that abuse and neglect take on children and our society as a whole.

If abused and neglected children do not get the proper support, they are more likely to drop out of school, end up homeless, and become involved in crime and drugs. Advocacy efforts will not only help end child abuse, it will improve our community where we live, work and play.

When we work together to protect vulnerable children, it literally saves lives. We all have a role to play. What will yours be?


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.