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

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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.

 

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.

Invested in Her Well Being

A few year’s ago, Melissa attended a CASA breakfast at which a young child
spoke. He shared his experience with Court Appointed Special Advocate’s and the
difference a CASA made in bringing some stability to his life. Melissa, who has four
daughters, couldn’t imagine children not having the security of knowing that someone
was invested in their well being. She decided she could offer that to children who
needed advocacy as a CASA volunteer.

“People sometimes think that being a CASA requires a lot but it really just requires that
you are there for the child…that you are caring and committed to that role in the child’s
life,” Melissa said.

Melissa shared an experience with a nine year-old girl who was one of her first cases.
The child had a violin concert at school. Melissa attended and sat in the audience,
clapping for the performance, “I wanted to make sure she knew that someone was
there for her when she looked out into the audience. Her face brightened when she
saw me and she whispered to the little girl pointing to me. That’s when I thought, ok, I
am making a difference in her life right now.”

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Her next case has had its challenges but it is one that Melissa feels uniquely equipped
to handle. “I have raised four daughters, so when I was assigned a 17-year-old, I drew
on my personal experiences of having four teen-aged girls in the house!”

Melissa also drew upon her experiences as a health coach. She clarified that you can’t
always tell teenagers what to do but you can coach them and guide them. Melissa
asked the teen-aged girl, “What are your goals and what are the next steps in reaching
those goals.” She notes that it is harder with teenagers who have bounced around the
system, often from one situation to the next. Many don’t have the parental guidance
and the security to draw upon in making decisions or in reacting to day-to-day
situations.

“Sometimes your instincts are to direct the child to do what you think is best for them,
but you have to step back, listen and understand,” Melissa said. ” CASA’s have an
important role to play as advocate and procedures to follow. But everyone else has a
role, too. You learn that you can offer stability and perspective in the best interests of
the child yet sometimes you can’t solve every problem. That’s okay, you can still be there
for that child during a time of transition.”

Melissa’s first child, the violin player, was reunified with her parents. “The hard part is
not knowing what the future will bring for that child. I hope I made a difference for the
window of time I was her advocate—that she knows I was invested in her well being,”
Melissa said.


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.

Meant to Be

Being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children living in foster care was a natural fit for Beth, who spent her long career as a special education teacher. Newly retired, Beth ran into an old friend by chance, who knew someone who was a CASA volunteer. “It would be perfect for you,” this friend said. So, Beth took up the challenge and signed up for CASA training. Within a few months, she began advocating for three siblings.

Mother playing with her two daughters.

The children were living in foster care due to their mother’s substance abuse and reported domestic violence in the home. The eldest child, who was eight at the time, often cared for her younger siblings, age five, and, one and a half years old, in her mother’s absence.

On her first visit with the children, Beth could see that, despite their removal, the children adjusted to their foster home. They warmed up to Beth right away, asking her to play with them and they talked openly with her. During the coming months and years, Beth’s visits continued and she came to know the children and their needs very well and communicated those needs to the courts.

Thankfully, Beth said, “Everyone involved in the children’s life worked well together. The children’s birth mother was working hard to have her children return home and she was appreciative of Beth’s concern for her children. The foster parent was also happy to have Beth visit and pay attention the children’s needs.” When the foster parent felt overwhelmed, she confided in Beth, as did their children’s mother. The children continued to make progress, and do well in school and most importantly, their mother seemed to be on the road to recovery.

For the next two and a half years, Beth was the constant voice in the children’s life and every time she visited, the children would run smiling, excited to see her. Beth was their devoted advocate.

The dichotomy between the messiness of the lives of children in foster care and the serendipity of Beth’s experience was not lost on her. “Everything in this situation was as good as it can be under the circumstances. The resource parents cared and communicated well. Their mother worked hard to get them back. Things probably would have worked out the same for them whether I had advocated for them or not. But I made things easier,” she added. “I was extra help. I was someone to talk to. And I was the constant.”

The children are finally back home with their mother. Day-to-day life is full of challenges for them but they are glad to be together. Beth still stops by and visits regularly and the children are still thrilled to see her. The children’s former foster parents still visit and babysit on occasion, glad to have the children in their life and the children’s mother is happy to have the help.

Beth says she is ready to take on a new case and says she will continue to be a CASA for as long as she is able…maybe, it just so happens, that being a CASA is exactly what she was meant to 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.

Being a CASA Volunteer is Richly Rewarding

Mary spent 40 years teaching young children in southeastern New Jersey schools. Throughout her career, she saw children who clearly had “more to deal with than they should in their young lives.” She saw firsthand the impact of poverty and drugs on her young students. Mary made sure they were supported and cared for while in her classroom and wondered what they had to deal with when they left her safe haven for home.

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Her compassion for children in difficult situations led Mary to explore being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) after retiring. A fellow teacher was an advocate and shared her experiences. “I felt that as a teacher I could be effective with younger children who might be experiencing problems in the classroom,” said Mary. “As a teacher, I had insights as to how to find the right person to help a child or help a family member to navigate a complex system.”

Recently Mary did just that. A grandmother of a child whose case Mary previously handled called her to ask help with the little girl who was having difficulty in school. Mary said, “The grandmother turned to me because I knew how to help her help this child because of my experience as a teacher.” Not long after, Mary was reassigned to the case and is helping advocate for this child again providing consistency and know how.

After three years as a CASA, Mary has accepted the role of a peer coach – she is now part of a support team that helps other CASA volunteers as they work their cases. She finds the work rewarding. “This is a really supportive environment. CASA’s get extensive training and then have a peer coach who can help them as they take on their first cases,” Mary said. She often texts or calls her CASA’s to see how they are managing and offers her understanding when things get tough. When one of her advocates had a hard day in court, Mary called her so the advocate could just talk about it with someone who would understand.

Mary says that anyone who cares about children would find being a CASA richly rewarding, “There are so many children in this area who need our help. It’s so important.” Mary added, “It’s all about the children.”

 


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.