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.

 

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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.

Homeless-Youth

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.