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.

 

Making an Impact in the Lives of Children

After successful careers, Steven and Kathleen moved to Ocean City and looked forward to having their children and grandchildren visit them during their retirement. While they enjoyed having visits with family members during the beautiful summer months, they began looking for volunteer opportunities. It was Kathleen who first suggested that they look into volunteering for CASA.

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“My wife thought it might be something we could do together,” said Steven. “We attended the orientation, and Kathleen felt it wasn’t the right fit for her at that time. I thought it was a good fit for me and hoped I could make an impact as a CASA.” Steven also said his own experience of having someone close to him who suffered from addiction that impacted children persuaded him that his personal insights and skills as a program manager would be helpful in the role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). His hunch proved true. Steven worked first with an older child who aged out of the system but with whom he still stays in touch.

As a CASA, Steven uses his ability to address complex issues, manage timelines and build relationships with people to seek the best possible solutions for these children. Yet he acknowledges sometimes it is difficult work, “Over the course of a single case, we can work with several different case managers, judges or attorneys, and we are often the only stability a child has during this period of uncertainty.” In his view, giving a child stability makes the work worthwhile.

Steven’s current work with a five-year-old boy, Adam, has given him satisfaction on many levels. When he walks into the room and sees the child smile at his arrival, he knows he has made a meaningful connection. Steven recalled one time that Adam was sad to see him leave during a regular visit. Steven explained that he had to go home to cook his wife dinner. “At the next visit, Adam suggested that if I taught my wife to cook her own dinner, I could visit longer,” he said.

Steven enjoys the personal connections that build trust with a child. Ultimately, he hopes his ability to leverage relationships can positively influence finding the best possible situation for each child for whom he advocates. His influence has expanded recently by becoming a Peer Coach for three new CASAs. As a peer coach, he helps the novice CASA’s find the resources they need as they approach their new roles. “With our CASA Volunteer Coordinator, me, as the peer coach, and the CASAs, we have a whole team of people working for the best interests of the children.” And that is a recipe for making an impact in the lives of 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.

Youth Advocacy: We All Have A Role. What Will Be Yours?

Every year more than 20,000 youth across the country age out of the foster care system. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties is one local organization that is trying to help older foster youth make lasting connections and prepare for adulthood if they leave foster care without a permanent home.

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As many as 50 percent of youth who age out of foster care are likely to become homeless. This year, National Adoption Month is providing resources on how the voices of older youth can help professionals ensure “forever families” for teenagers in foster care.

CASA has worked with foster youth for 17 years and has seen first-hand the negative effects of youth lingering in the foster care system. Youth ages seven to 17 are at greater risk of not finding a permanent home and aging out of the system. This means many age out of the child welfare system at age 18 with no family to call their own. These youth have minimal skills, a high school education, at best, and lack the basic knowledge to live on their own. You can imagine what happens to these youth. Homeless, jobless or underemployed, these youth can turn to crime and drugs as a means to survive. A young person bereft of any family ties lacks the foundational support and guidance that all youth need as they mature into adulthood.

Having permanent adult and family connections, like a CASA volunteer, provides teenagers with the critical legal and emotional support that all young people need as they transition into adulthood and possibly continue their education, seek employment, and start new relationships.

CASA volunteers specifically help this age group by encouraging educational achievement, ensuring sibling and parental visits to keep family relations intact, recommending appropriate long-term placements and helping improve social relations. CASA’s number one priority is to help them find a permanent home so they do not age out of the system. If a permanent home is not possible, we want them to be as prepared for the future as they can be.

Not everyone will want to be a CASA volunteer, but everyone can be a youth advocate.

Here are some steps you can take to help older youth in need:
1. Become a mentor
2. Donate to or volunteer with a social service agency that helps children
3. Keep educated on the topic
4. Help others understand the need to help all youth experience equal opportunity

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

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.

 

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.

Why Halloween can be Overwhelming for Foster Kids

Written by Darren Fink for Transfiguring Adoption on October 23rd, 2017

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Why Something Fun Like Halloween Can be Overwhelming for Foster Kids

  • Your foster kiddo isn’t with their biological parent(s)
  • They are trying to learn all sorts of new house rules
  • They might have a new school to get used to during the day
  • Your family probably eats different foods than they are used to
  • This kiddo might be having fun at your home and feel like they are betraying their biological parent(s)
  • The same chemicals in the body given off during a stressful situation are given off during a fun and exciting situation; probably the same chemicals that were given off when they experiences trauma in the past
  • Trick-or-Treating = Super Fun = Chemicals Release = Remember Past Trauma = Meltdown

3 Tips for Enjoying Your Trick-Or-Treating Adventure

  1. Tell them what to expect, which helps with anxiousness caused by the unknown
    • Do you expect everyone to stick together?
    • Are you going to houses or a Trunk or Treat?
    • Will there be a lot of people? A lot of noise? Will they get bumped a lot?
      (Children with sensory issues especially need to know this)
    • What do they need to say at the door? Do you expect them to say, “Thank You?”
  2. Expectations after Trick-Or-Treating are as important as during
    • Do you check the candy before letting kids into the bags?
    • Do you let the kids eat as much as they want on Halloween night?
    • Do you expect your kids to keep their same bedtime?
  3. Better to call it quits early
    I know you probably remember Trick-or-Treating in seven different neighborhoods for four hours when you were a kid. However, as we discussed above, our kids get overwhelmed and tired easily. Set the bar low for the night. Maybe half the Trunk or Treat event or 10 houses. Avoid the meltdown and make it a memorable night. The candy can always be purchased from the store.

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.