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.

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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.

COVID-19: Using Self-Quarantine as a Self-Reflection

Like many of you, we are paying close attention to the evolving COVID-19 situation locally and nationwide. While we must take prudent measures to help keep our children, volunteers and stakeholders safe, CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties is exploring every possible way to continue our advocacy efforts in order to fulfill our critical mission and support the children and families we serve.

During a crisis – be it a hurricane or a pandemic – the need for CASA grows even greater. Many of our children are from vulnerable populations who will be dramatically affected by this health crisis – losing the meals they depend upon at school, missing school lessons for lack of internet, or simply increasing the anxiety in children who are already traumatized by their experience.

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The children we serve still need our advocacy, so we have moved all in-person visits to video and phone check-ins while in-person visits are not possible. By adjusting our practices and protocols we can prioritize safety while still supporting our essential role for children and balancing the health and safety of our volunteers. By employing these few alternatives to face-to-face child visits, we will provide a seamless continuation of care for our existing CASA children.

Additionally, we still have to think about the children who are not yet assigned a CASA, or who will be entering 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.

Therefore, we challenge you to use this self-quarantine as a time of self-reflection to commit to helping your community and the life of a child in need by becoming a CASA volunteer.

We will be moving our information sessions, pre-training interviews and volunteer training process entirely online to keep our prospective volunteers and our staff safe. We are still ready for you to become a CASA volunteer – please consider joining us!

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.

My Two Moms

The following excerpt is from an essay written by a foster youth applying for a special summer education program at a local university.

My two moms are the most influential women in my life. In deciding who I want to become and what I want to accomplish in life I look to them. In some ways they are so different but when it comes to what matters they are the same. My birth mom, Kaya, is black and was born in South Africa. My adoptive mom, Alice, is white and was born in New Jersey. My mother, Kaya, had a hard life in Africa and wanted a better life. She moved to America all by herself. This is important because she has had to do everything on her own and make her own way. She struggled for a long time and we were homeless for years. Having lived in various homeless shelters made me realize that I needed an education to be successful so I would not have to go back to the shelters.

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For nearly five years I have lived in foster care with my soon to be adoptive family. My family tree is pretty complicated with a lot of branches! My adoptive family consists of my mom and dad, their two birth children, one adopted daughter, me, and my little sister who is also being adopted. Alice, my adoptive mom, is a strong and amazing woman like my birth mom. She has had a very different life though and is finishing her fourth advanced college degree. She works two jobs while getting this degree and still manages to make dinner for the whole family each night.

As you can see, both of my moms have worked very hard to get where they are. They are both an inspiration and I love them both equally. They have both impacted me in different ways and have made me into the young woman I am today. I hope to continue the path of helping others for the rest of my life.


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.

Foster Parenting as a Career

Although controversial, the idea of treating fostering as a full-time paid position, is gaining in popularity. A handful of governments are experimenting with this idea. In 2016 Illinois implemented a pilot program with professional foster parents. Parts of Texas started using professional foster parents in 2017.

Increasingly, children come into foster care with serious behavioral and mental issues. These issues require intensive training and understanding.

Jill Duerr Berrick, professor at the School of Social Welfare at UC – Berkley, states that the idea emerged from a realization that some foster children have extreme needs. Also, over the past 70 years, the number of foster homes have declined significantly. Two parent homes, with a stay at home wife, is no longer the norm as it was in the 1950’s.

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Berrick states “professionalizing foster care isn’t just about the money. It means you’ve been thoughtfully trained and supported to do a good job.”

Retention rates are low for foster parenting. In fact, a study of over 5,000 foster parents showed a 30-50% of foster parents quit within the first 18 months. Half of those cited lack of support and training.

Controversial? Yes. Many believe fostering should remain altruistic. “Kids know the difference between a job and not a job,” Tracey Field is the director/manager of the Child Welfare Strategy Group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She feels this model, “really reimagines foster care – but not in a good way.”

Professional foster parents usually foster the children with serious mental, emotional or behavioral issues. In Milwaukee’s Professional Foster Care Program, these children have many appointments throughout the week. This requires a full-time commitment from the foster parent; they cannot hold another job and still support the child’s needs.

Some children feel they are just cash cows when any money is involved. Others feel differently. Heavenly Morrow, lived with professional foster parents in Milwaukee from age 16 – 17; she stated she never felt like her foster parents were in it for the money.

 


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.

 

Local Business Advances CASA Mission

Jen Pierce has a passion…it’s making a difference in the lives of children.  Jen, who is a busy mother and businesswoman in Atlantic County, learned of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), through a friend who was involved. She decided to attend an information session and it was there she learned that by giving to CASA she could make a direct impact in the lives of local children. Jen and her husband had many opportunities in the community to make charitable donations through their business.

“When we learned that there were not enough volunteers for every child who needed advocacy, we decided we could have a much bigger and immediate impact by devoting our resources to children—particularly those in need of advocacy,” says Jen.

Jen also got actively involved in hosting information sessions and events, making others aware of the growing need in Atlantic and Cape May counties. She hosts a table at the awareness and information sessions held regularly by CASA.  The couple also donates a portion of the proceeds from their business through their 3-C Club, an annual customer subscription maintenance service. Jen says it makes their customers feel good about participating in the program when they know that they are contributing to CASA.

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“We are able to raise awareness through our customer base too and that makes us feel good,” Jen says. Jen notes that it is really gratifying to know that now every child who needs one can have a CASA. “Through no fault of their own, these children may be in situations that prevent them from living up to their full potential. No matter how big or small the donation of money or time, it can still impact the children in positive ways,” says Jen.  “We want to make sure that CASA can provide an advocate for every child who needs one.”

 


Clay’s Climate Control LLC is a family-owned and operated company located in Linwood, NJ. The company was founded by Clay and Jen Pierce in 2001 based on the principle that we could offer an excellent HVAC experience to our customers.

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.

 

Poverty and Toxic Stress in the Womb

Excerpted from: Harvard Research: Impact of poverty begins in the womb, but doesn’t have to
Click video link at end for full video

We all know about the effects of toxins, such as alcohol, drugs and lead paint, that are passed on to the developing infant during pregnancy. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child is breaking new ground in neuro-chemistry and neuro-biology to expose the effects of toxic stress on the developing brain in the womb – and how to break the cycle. Poverty is a constant threat to the developing baby’s brain.

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At birth, the infant brain already has nearly all the billions of cells of a mature brain. The chronic stress a pregnant mom, living in poverty, experiences actually alters the infant’s brain. The mom’s stress system is constantly activated – and the baby’s stress system, in the womb, mirrors the mom’s. High blood pressure and high levels of cortisol rewires and prepares the developing brain for a dangerous world. These babies are born with hair trigger stress responses which affect every aspect of their lives, such as academic struggles, failed relationships and incarceration. However, the poverty cycle can be broken in utero.

An organization, The Nurse-Family Partnership provides struggling mom’s support systems which include food pantries, access to prenatal care and education. These caregivers provide one of the most important contributors to stress reduction – love. Some of these moms have no family or friends as a support network. Sadly, an overused coping strategy for those living in poverty is substance abuse. Studies show dramatic reduction in stressors and the associated toxins, with loving caregivers.

As a society, early intervention to break the poverty cycle benefits us all. We could see quantifiable improvements in chronic diseases and emergency room visits, education, unemployment and incarceration. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child estimates dollars spent on early intervention will be recouped in 2-3 years.

You can view the full video (approx. 35 minutes) by clicking this link: Harvard Research: Impact of poverty begins in the womb, but doesn’t have to

 


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.

Human Trafficking Happens In Every Community, And We Can Do Something About It

By Jeff Warren, Community Outreach Coordinator, CASA SHaW

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Throughout the United States, January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  The goal is for every community to become more educated about the perils of human trafficking, how it affects our youth and what we, collectively, can do about it.

Modern day human trafficking takes many forms – the most prevalent being sex and labor trafficking. Individuals may be held against their will as domestic and/or sex workers, working for little or no pay, and with no way to find other employment due to the horrific circumstances they face.  Girls and boys are forced into prostitution and isolated from people who could provide a means of escape.  Victims of trafficking have few resources and most often go unrecognized by law enforcement, social services representatives and other service providers.  Their hidden victimization allows perpetrators to offend under the radar making the significance of this crime more important to understand.  Inevitably, human and sex trafficking is the modern-day form of slavery.

We also know that trafficking happens in every community, both rural and urban, affecting at-risk youth.  It is not unique to specified neighborhoods or demographic groups.  We know this due, in part, to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.  The Hotline provides victims and survivors of human trafficking with vital support and options to get help and stay safe.  These options could include connecting callers with emergency shelter, transportation, trauma counselors, local law enforcement, or a range of other services and support.

Based on reports by the federal government, 100,000 to 400,000 children are being trafficked in the United States annually.  The difficulty in gathering solid, concrete statistics stems from the underground nature at which trafficking exists.  Folks are not raising their hands-on street corners letting communities know they are being trafficked and held hostage.  However, the Polaris Project has more concrete numbers for us to look at.

The National Hotline has handled 51,919 cases since 2007, comprising one of the largest publicly available data sets on human trafficking in the United States.  According to Polaris, “these aggregated, anonymized data help illuminate otherwise hidden trends, risk factors, methods of control, and other variables that allow this crime to manifest across the country.  With these tools, we can better respond to and prevent human trafficking.”

So, what can be done to curb trafficking in our counties and communities?

The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking is working to bring about more awareness, understanding and help to communities throughout our state.  Their website, njhumantrafficking.org, has online resources and downloadable toolkits for the public to learn and share concerning human and sex trafficking.  Visiting their site and learning more is a great way to start.

Here are some other ways you can make a difference to help curb trafficking?

  1. Learn the indicators of human trafficking so you can help identify a potential trafficking victim. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, businesses, first responders, law enforcement, educators, and federal employees, among others.
  2. If you are in the United States and believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline line at 1-888-373-7888.
  3. Be a conscientious and informed consumer. Discover your slavery footprint, ask who picked your tomatoes or made your clothes, or check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Encourage companies to take steps to investigate and prevent human trafficking in their supply chains and publish the information, including supplier or factory lists, for consumer awareness.
  4. Volunteer and support anti-trafficking efforts in your community.
  5. Meet with and/or write to your local, state, and federal government representatives to let them know you care about combating human trafficking, and ask what they are doing to address it.

 


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.