When Something Goes Right

Merv was looking for something to do in retirement. Something meaningful. As a former trial attorney, Merv knew the court system and bureaucracy and felt comfortable advocating on behalf of others, so he felt well prepared to take on the role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

Through his professional experience, Merv knew that the wheels of bureaucracy move slow, and working within that system takes persistence, and more often, strong-willed persistence. Ultimately, it was Merv’s prior work as a family therapist that he believes prepared him for his work as a CASA volunteer. His perspective into socioeconomic issues facing families gave him the knowledge to effectively counsel parents and sort through the challenges facing the children and their families. These insights proved the most helpful as he took on some of the more challenging cases as a CASA.

Merv is no stranger to the unique challenges children in foster care face. Now advocating for a brother and sister, placed in separate homes, Merv does what he can to help the siblings connect. Recently, the sister made a birthday card for her brother and asked Merv to bring it to him. The brother was overjoyed to receive a special message from his sister on his birthday – so much so that he asked Merv to read the card to him twice.

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While Merv acknowledges that some cases can be frustrating, he knows that he is striving for what is best for that child.

Merv’s dedication to making a difference in a child’s life keeps him engaged during the toughest situations. Merv notes that, “you may not always get the outcome you may want most for a child – such as reunification or adoption, but the people who work on behalf of these children have good intentions and work hard to get them services they need.” Sometimes, even the toughest cases have silver-lining outcomes. “It is rewarding when something goes right for these children,” Merv says.


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 Child You Know is Being Bullied: How to Recognize Bullying and How to Help

Guest Blog by Dr. John DeGarmo. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.

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To the surprise of many, 1 in 5 children in the United States between the ages of 12–18 has been bullied at some point while in school.

Perhaps even more surprising is that over half of adolescents and teens have experienced cyberbullying or been bullied online.

Bullying, in whatever form, can have profound effects upon young children. Indeed, children who have been bullied often experience anxiety and depression, as well as increased feelings of sadness and loneliness. Along with this, children who have been bullied may also experience changes in eating and sleeping habits. Frequent headaches and stomach aches are also signs that a child may be bullied.

In regards to academics, those students who have experienced bullying often perform lower in reading, math, and science courses. Indeed, school aged children who have been bullied are more likely to skip school, with 160,000 of teens reporting to have skipped because of bullying.

If you are a parent and suspect your child is being bullied, it is imperative that you take this seriously. Sit down with your child, and listen with a sympathetic and compassionate ear. Do not over react, or for that matter, under react, not taking it seriously enough. In no way should you blame him or give him cause to think he is at fault. Indeed, ask him when and where the bullying is occurring and who the bully is. Make sure your child has your phone numbers and let him know he can call you anytime he is being bullied and needs help.

Talk to him about bullying, and how he can report it to you and to others. Reassure the child that you will help him, and that he is safe in your home. Your support and your love is most important to him at this time, and your words of encouragement are also important. Remind him that he is important and that he is loved.

Contact your child’s school and the child’s teacher immediately, informing them of the bullying towards the child. Request that the school separate the child and the bully, at all times and in all places while at school. While it may be difficult for your child, encourage him to walk away any time he is being bullied. Remind him to find an adult if he feels he is being bullied. Remind him that retaliation in school, or hitting another child, will not be permitted by the school.

Cyberbullying is the platform in which the 21st century bully uses to inflict pain and humiliation upon another. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to embarrass, threaten, tease, harass, or even target another person. With the use of online technology and social networking sites, today’s bully can follow their targeted victim where ever the child may go. Whether the child is in school, at the park, at the movie theater, or at home, whenever that bullied child has a cell phone or access to online technology, he can be bullied. In essence, this form of bullying can be non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If your child is being bullied online, or cyberbulling, there are a number of ways you can help to protect your child, as well. The most important thing you can do as a parent in protecting your child from cyberbullying is to stay heavily involved in all aspects of the child’s school life. Ask your child each day how school was. Enquire about your child’s friends. Keep in regular contact with your child’s teachers, and ask for updates on the child’s behavior and academics. If possible, become a volunteer at the school. Not only will these strategies help monitor any possible cyberbullying behavior, you will also help your child with any academic challenges they might be experiencing. Watch for sudden mood swings that might suggest the child is being bullied, as well as signs of depression, isolation, and separation from others.

No matter the form of bullying that your child is a victim of, it is important that you seek professional help and therapy if your child is struggling to overcome his depression.


Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. Dr. John is the founder and director of The Foster Care Institute. He has been a foster parent for 17 years, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare, businesses, and non profit organizations. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Care Survival Guide and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, and NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations across the nation. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Representing the Children in Foster Care

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Bounced among foster homes, lawyers, and caseworkers, children in foster care need a consistent, caring advocate, and for children of Hispanic heritage, it is particularly important that their Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer understand and respect their culture. In many instances the number of Hispanic and Latino children in foster care outnumbers the number of CASA volunteers, which means children are often assigned to a CASA volunteer with a different ethnic background.

 

Former CASA volunteer and Pleasantville resident, Yasna finds her heritage allowed her to develop a closer relationship with the children on her case. When Yasna first took her, her CASA child was frightened and unresponsive to those trying to help her. Then the young girl met Yasna, who spoke in the girl’s native Spanish language, and she immediately became comfortable and opened up to Yasna. “Everything totally changed when she could speak Spanish. We had a communication bond, and she came to me when she needed help,” Yasna said. Growing up in Miami, Yasna explained, it was easy for her to find someone who spoke Spanish, but in many communities, fluent Spanish speakers are rare. Navigating the foster care system is already complicated, but with English as a second language, the experience can be overwhelming.

 

Cultural competency is more than overcoming a language barrier; sensitivity to traditions and values builds trust between the CASA volunteer and the child. “Every single Hispanic culture is different, but the method of upbringing with a foundation of family is there (in all cultures),” Yasna said. Despite their differences, with most Hispanic and Latino cultures, there is a commonality of having deep passion for family. “We love to fight, but at the dinner table, we all love each other,” she said laughing. Although the CASA children have come from an abusive home-life, their propensity to reflect their culture is still there, she explained.

 

As a CASA Volunteer, you try very hard to keep emotion out of your interactions with the children. However, for Hispanic culture, Yasna says, “you need to bring emotion out to form a trust with the child.”

 

According to Casey Family Programs, Hispanic children are more likely to be placed in foster care and for longer periods than their White, non-Latino peers. Because of this, it is essential that the CASA volunteer and child relationship be based on trust, rapport, and an ability to understand and appreciate the child’s culture and traditions.

 

A more diverse volunteer base will better match the cultural make-up of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of Hispanic and Latino volunteers makes it difficult to meet the need. Understanding how children feel about their heritage and being able to communicate and relate to their traditions can make the difference between the child feeling alone or appreciated and self-assured.

 


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.

5 Tips to Prepare for Back to School for Foster Children

Guest blog post by Salendria Mabrey, embrella (formerly FAFS) Communication & Development Associate originally posted September 17, 2014. Link to original post 

 

The times of sleeping late on weekdays, summer camp and family trips to amusement and water parks are over for your child in care – at least for now. It’s the season to get him back in the routine of going to bed and rising early to his world of lockers, gym and lunch periods. He may drag his feet when it’s time to get up early and get prepared for school. It is also possible he will grumble about not being able to watch a certain show that comes on later in the evening because of his new bedtime. Like any kind of change, it is uncomfortable and may take a while to adjust. Here are a few tips that should help you as a foster parent to prepare your child in care for a new school year.

Build Excitement

In addition to attending class and doing homework, the school year will bring chances for fun and exciting moments. Talk to your child in care about the many opportunities that will be available to him. It would help to do research on the school and learn the activities that interest him. If he loves music, try to get him excited about and involved in band, chorus or glee club. If he loves sports, encourage him to try out for basketball, football, tennis or any other athletic team available at the school. Explain the reward gained when he is a part of a team – not to mention how great it can look when he applies for college in the future.

Parent Teacher Conference Tips for Foster Parents

Let Them Be Involved

If he brings his own lunch, let him be a part of choosing what wants to eat for the day – and let him help you pack it. Also, allow him to pick out his own clothing. He knows the latest styles and trends in his school. Didn’t you know that his finger is on the pulse of the latest fashions? When he exercises his independence, it drives him towards growth and maturity. Packing his own lunch and picking out his own clothing gives him a voice and lets him know that his opinions matter. Now, if he only wants to eat candy bars and wear his clothes inside out all of the time, you MAY need to take the upper hand.

Revive Sleep Routines

For your child in care, there will be no more sleeping without alarms during weekdays for a good while. It may take some time, but sending him to bed early is your best bet for a productive day. It is generally known that getting the right amount of rest each night can give the body what it needs to function properly. Determine the best time your child in care should go to bed for a guaranteed good night’s rest, and stick to it – and, if there is a monster in the closet or under the bed, you’ll have to get rid of it immediately so there will be peaceful sleeping for all throughout the night.

Create a Dialogue with Teachers

When you have the contact information of your child in care’s teacher, letting him or her know you have a foster child would be a great way to prepare the teacher for possible challenges. Give the teacher an overview and as much information concerning your child in care as you can without breaking confidentiality. Let the teacher know your involvement in your child in care’s life and any challenges you know of that he is facing. Chances are, the teacher will understand and be willing to work with him to ensure he has a successful school year.

Get Involved

In addition to receiving progress reports, reach out to your child in care’s teacher to stay on top of how he is doing. He has been through some traumatic experiences; there could be many distractions he may be dealing with, so it’s in his best interest when you are aware of any hurdles he may need help overcoming. Arrange monthly meetings with teachers and get as involved as you can. A good way to get involved and stay up-to-date with what’s going on in his school is to join the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).

embrella (formerly FAFS) is Here to Help

embrella (formerly FAFS) is here for every season you face. Our Backpack Program is available year-round to help foster parents welcome foster children into their new home. The program also provides backpacks to children in care as they begin their new school year. If you have already received backpacks, please share that with us! Here’s to a successful and productive school year!

 


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.

Staying Positive and Reuniting

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Portion of an interview with a mom who reunited with her daughter after overcoming substance abuse. Names have been changed and details have been altered to protect the family.

  1. We realize you have been through a challenging journey in being reunified with your child – will you share with us a little about your story?

“I was addicted to cocaine and so I lost my baby. I was stubborn and thought I wasn’t addicted. Then CASA Linda came into my life, she was such a positive person and I still talk to her. She gave me the boost my baby and I needed. She always stayed positive. It is a wonderful thing, she is still there if I need someone to talk too and I still talk to her every couple of weeks. The help and support she provided me was just great. My child will be three next month and I wouldn’t have her without the help of CASA Linda.”

  1. What is the greatest impact CASA had on the case or in working with your child?

“CASA Linda was just so supportive of me and my baby. She was just that extra person to check on me and make sure I was okay. She was always supportive and positive of me and I think you should give her to all of your hard cases.”

  1. Can you think of a specific example where CASA really helped or made an impact?

“When I had to go to court and I was away from my daughter, CASA Linda wrote these positive notes for me and she told me not to give up. She told me to keep fighting and she was just so positive. From the beginning, she realized I was trying to do what I needed to do to get my daughter back and she gave me a chance. Even when I sometimes gave up on myself she was there. It was great just to have that person in  my corner encouraging me and seeing that I was doing well. It meant a lot.”

4. What did you think about CASA Linda in the beginning?

“In the beginning I just thought of her as one more person who was going to tell me what to do, one more person who was going to put me down, one more person who was going to keep me away from my baby…but actually it turned out as quite the opposite. She gave me more strength to do what I needed to do and gave me the support to get my child back.”

5. Is there something CASA Linda could have done to make things better?

“I wish I had met CASA Linda earlier. I remember the first time she came to see me; she drove for hours. I couldn’t believe it. It would have been nice to have someone so positive right from the start; someone to tell me, if you do the right thing, then I’m in your corner.”

Portion of an interview with a mom who reunited with her daughter after overcoming substance abuse. Names have been changed and details have been altered to protect the family.


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.

When Extended Family Are Caregivers

In 2016, a two and half year old Jack was placed with his great aunt. His mom had mental health and substance abuse issues and she agreed to an identified surrender to her aunt. Everything was on schedule for a smooth adoption until the birth father suddenly re-emerged in the child’s life, which stalled the plans for permanency. CASA Deena met with the birth father, but he didn’t make any meaningful effort to regain custody of his son, so that adoption process continued. CASA Deena has been Jack’s advocate at every step of the way arguing in court that “not only was the aunt’s home safe, it was the only home that Jack had ever known.” Thankfully, the family courts agreed and Jack, his aunt, and CASA Deena are all excited for the adoption ceremony, which will occur in just a few short months.

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According to the brief Adoption and Guardianship for Children in Kinship Foster Care by Generations United and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, “…the foster care system’s reliance on grandparents and other extended family members to care for children is increasing each year,” in the U.S. The brief continues, “…research shows that kinship foster care is generally better for children than non-related foster care. Children in kinship foster care experience fewer placement changes, more stability, better behavioral and mental health outcomes, and are more likely to report that they “always feel loved.” [l] Children raised by kinship foster parents keep their connections to brothers, sisters, extended family and community, and their cultural identities. [2] Due in part to this research, a higher percentage of children are cared for by relatives in foster care than ever before.”

Children in kinship foster care are more likely to find a permanent home than children in non-related foster care. [3] In 2017, about 35% of all children adopted from foster care were adopted by relatives and 10% of children who exited foster care, exited into guardianships. [4]

Additionally, the 2017 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) complied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau indicates that 32% of all children in foster care in the U.S. (140,675 children) were with relatives, representing and increase over the last 10 years of about 9%. [5]

While the reporting on kinship care is positive news for the children in foster care who are living with relatives, it is important to note that AFCARS also reports nearly half (46%) of children and youth in foster care live with non-relatives, 6% reside in group homes and 7% live in institutions. So while the 9% increase in children living with relatives is substantial, many more children are still in need of family members who can take on the role of caregiver.

1 Generations United (2016). Children Thrive in Grandfamilies. Retrieved http://www.grandfamilies.org/PortalsI0/16-Children-Thrive-inGrandfamilies. pdf
2 lbid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 AFCARS Report (2018). Retrieved www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport25.pdfAFCARS


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.