I Want to Go Home

I know my Mom messed up, I’m not stupid. But I’m old enough to know that living at home with my Mom, even though she had her past demons, as my Grandma calls them, is still better than living with strangers. That’s what I’m going to tell the judge next week, I tell myself. I even practice it in the mirror. It’s not that I don’t like the Millers, they are very nice. But they are not Mom and besides, she told me that she is doing really well in her treatment counseling.

HtSF6H_qI’m 16, and until 6 months ago, I lived a normal life with my Mom. I went to school, Mom went to work, and at night we cooked dinner together and sometimes even watched TV. But then Mom started dating a new guy – Don. He was fine at first, nice and polite, but it didn’t take long for things to change.

It wasn’t long after I met Don, that Mom stopped going to work, and stopped caring if I went to school. No longer did we make dinner together, mostly, she was never home at dinnertime or at bedtime. I tried to stay in school and keep up a good story, but I was scared. My Mom was changing and I didn’t know who to trust. I didn’t want Grandma to worry, she was so far away, so I just held it in, until it was too late.

I heard the bang on the door. It was 3am. I knew that Mom and Don had come home, I had heard them earlier, so it wasn’t them. The banging continued, and when it went unanswered, the police came in anyway. Turned out, Don was a drug dealer and was wanted by the police, they had followed him and my Mom that night and were arresting him for distribution.

Mom got caught up in the whole mess. She was not an innocent bystander, she knew what Don was doing, she was using too and she didn’t do anything to stop him or stay away from him. She brought him into our home.

When the police saw me come from my room, they immediately took me outside and asked me if I had any family nearby. “No,” I said. So they called child welfare. That night changed my life.

I was told that I could go inside and grab a few things, my Mom was already in the cop car. It looked like she was handcuffed but they wouldn’t let me talk to her. I could hear her yelling through the door window but didn’t know what she was saying. She looked small and scared, just like I was.

I followed the police instructions and was soon introduced to Janice, the lady who was going to take me to my foster home. The next month I met Alyson, she told me that she was my CASA volunteer. I had no idea what that was, but she explained her role to me and I thought that she was nice. She came to visit me almost every week and after awhile I understood that she was trying to help me and my Mom.

The rest of these months is a blur, but I did my best to remain calm and hopeful that this would all be settled soon. CASA Alyson helped me believe that and gave me the courage to sit here today in this courtroom and tell the judge what I had been practicing in front of the mirror for that last five months.

“Yes your honor,” CASA Alyson had helped me put the right words together. “I would like to go home with my Mother. I know that she messed up, but I also know that she is better now and is ready to be my Mom again.” The judge sighed and I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. I looked at Alyson, and she gave me an encouraging nod. I continued, “Your Honor, I know that Mom has been through a lot, and so have I, but I believe that we can make it together, I really want to go home.” Again the judge sighed, “Marissa, I know how hard your Mom has worked to get to this point and how badly you want to go home but I am worried about your safety should Mom have a setback. Can you tell me, if I agree to sending you home, is there anyone who you can call if you need help?”

I smiled, I knew the answer to this question and I hadn’t even practiced it. “Yes, your honor, my CASA Alyson,” and I pointed to Alyson sitting right behind me.

With that, the judge gave me a smile back and said, “Well, Marissa, as long as you and your Mom continue with family counseling and your CASA will agree to be there for you if you need her, you can go home today.”

I was so happy. I didn’t know what to do. I thanked the judge and gave CASA Alyson a big hug and when I got to my Mom, we both cried happy tears, because we were finally going to be a family again.


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.

July 4th Memories

My most vivid childhood memories focus around the Fourth of July. My father would load us in the car and head to Grandma’s for a typical community July Fourth celebration – a big field with rides, games, food and of course fireworks. Luckily, I was never afraid of the loud bangs and wanted to sit as close possible, inevitably being pulled back to safety by my Mom. In those days, the men in the community set off the fireworks and I remember trying to figure out which silhouette was my father running back and forth lighting off the next round to brighten the sky.

I never knew which one was he, but I imagined him as super-human, unafraid of the flames and explosions going on around him and proud that my Dad was strong and brave enough for such a dangerous job.

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These memories still bring me joy today. Joy of a happy childhood with my three siblings, joy in having a Mom and Dad who loved and provided a safe home for us, joy in being part of a community with friends, neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles all watching out for each other. The comforts that we enjoyed were part of the time that I grew up in – the 70s – before the internet, cell phones, texting, and social media. If you wanted to talk to someone, you called from a phone attached to the wall. In you needed information you opened an encyclopedia or the dictionary. You played, usually outside, in person with kids who also knew the rest of your family. You went to the same church, the same school, the same grocery store, and celebrated and mourned together. My childhood community weaved together like a beautiful mosaic.

What would have become of me if that mosaic frayed? How would my life have changed if a tragedy or challenge had rendered my parents unable to care for us?

I understand that I am lucky to have all of the benefits of growing up in a community and family filled with love. I also know that the privileges that I enjoyed – albeit, still enjoy to this day – are a product of my upbringing, my family, and my community.

I also know that not all children have the same advantages.

Many children will never know the joy of their father’s bravery or the security of an extended family. They will not understand what it means to be part of a community that is larger than they are, or know the unconditional love that protects you when you sit too close to the fireworks.

For these children, abuse, neglect and abandonment have taught them instead of love. In place of being cared for, they are often the caregivers, tending to their younger siblings or a parent suffering with substance abuse.

But, we cannot sit idle and let their challenges define them. We must help give hope to children who have suffered by becoming mentors, coaches, and advocates.

We can still teach traumatized children love and offer support. We can guide them in ways that they may never have experienced and with that encouragement, they too can look back on their childhood with joy. Joy that someone cared for them, joy that at their most challenging time an adult stepped in and pulled them back from getting to close to the fireworks.


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 Stand Together

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Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children stands in solidarity with the African-American community and shares the nationwide outrage over the unjust police killings of black Americans, most recently George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

As an organization advocating for the needs and rights of children placed in foster care, we are well aware of the racial disparity and disproportionality that children of color and their families face.

Statistics show, year after year, that African-American children are over represented in the child welfare system when compared to their representation in the general population. This disparity exists for many reasons, including long-standing institutional and systemic biases.

CASA continues our commitment to dismantling these disparities by bringing Undoing Racism training to CASA staff, volunteers and other child welfare system stakeholders throughout the state; developing and implementing a diversity and inclusion plan; and partnering with our court and child welfare systems to address the issue of disproportionality. We will continue our efforts to make strides in this area.

CASA advocates for and supports the rights of everyone – African-Americans and other people of color involved in the foster care system – and we will not rest until every person is treated with fairness, equity, and respect.

We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” ~ Frantz Fanon (1925—1961), Psychiatrist and anti-colonial cultural theorist.


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 Bumpy Road Leads to a Happy Ending

Life is complicated. Life is really complicated with parents living apart, sharing custody of six kids, one works two jobs while the other is trying hard, but still self-medicating to cope with the stress. Yeah, it is complicated.

I meet Jackson on his day off. He rides up on his bike to meet me, eager to share the story of the day his children were removed from their home by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). That was two and a half years ago.

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This is how it all started…a fight between two of the boys, landed one in the ER. A well-meaning aunt took the boy from the ER to another hospital in Philadelphia, leaving a discord between the boys’ mother and her well-meaning sister and an open door for a DCP&P investigation.

When DCP&P showed up at the home, mom was, understandably frightened. Strangers were coming into her home to investigate the welfare of her children and potentially their removal – that would frighten and anger anyone and perhaps make you not very cooperative. Which was the case for Jackson’s ex-wife. Once the investigation was complete, all of the children were removed from her care. Another aunt took in Jackson’s two girls, the two older children went to live with their biological father and a foster family takes in Jackson’s two boys.

DCP&P, CASA and the courts, work hard to keep families tighter, that is always the first choice whenever possible. Cooperation from all parties, especially the parents, is the key to ensuring reunification. Jackson understood this immediately and made sure he did everything necessary to bring his kids back home. Jackson’s ex-wife took a little longer to understand the process and the importance of her cooperation, but eventually she did, entering a recovery program for her drug addiction.

At first, DCP&P only granted supervised visits with their children in public places. Next, DCP&P allowed supervised visits with Jackson, then sleepovers supervised by Jackson.  Then Jackson’s six and 10-year-old sons returned to him.

Still, challenges existed that needed solutions. Childcare was a big obstacle, Jackson had to work, but who would watch the boys? Luckily, DCP&P helped secure affordable childcare. Jackson’s two girls were unhappy living at their aunt’s home so DCP&P granted permission to stay with Jackson’s girlfriend – a week before a court hearing. The two younger boys had trouble in school, so CASA Merv helped get them into an aftercare programs. The children’s mom continued to struggle with her addiction so CASA Merv helped her get the services she needed that would bring her kids back home.  Even transportation was an issue – Jackson and his ex-wife had to take two to three busses every week to visit their boys in their foster home.

The process was slow and difficult, but it was working and support came from all corners.

CASA Merv said, “The first time I met Jackson, he stood up in court, and clearly stated his intentions to reunite his family. I was so impressed with Jackson. We became friends.  Jackson did everything.”

In time, mom became more and more cooperative. She too, began to do what needed to reunite her family.  One by one, the children returned to their parents’ homes. Jackson has his two boys.  The others are with their mom.

Jackson finished our talk with on a positive note, “In the end, good came out. My kids never had Godparents. Through my visits with my kids while in their foster home, I came to know this wonderful couple. During a phone call, after the boys returned home, the foster parents asked if they could maintain their relationship with my boys. They asked if they could call the boys once a week and sleep over once a month to see the friends that they had met in the neighborhood. They also asked if they could be the boys Godparents.” Jackson responded to this heartwarming request with, “I’ll check with their mom.”  The kids now have Godparents and monthly sleepovers with their new friends.

Jackson said his relationship with CASA Merv continues with calls once a month to check in to say, “If you need anything at all, just ask.” Jackson said, “CASA Merv’s role was instrumental in getting my kids back home. He cared, was always there, and gave us the resources we needed.”

CASA Merv and DCP&P told the judge that this foster family has fostered many children but Jackson’s children, “are the best kids we’ve ever had, they were kind and respectful and well mannered.” As a parent, those are the best words that you can ever hear, especially with the challenges that this family faced.

We all know that life is complicated, but helping each other over the bumps in the road makes our journey together a little lighter.


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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Holiday Traditions Create Strong Family Bonds

The holiday season is upon us and it is such an exciting time with so much to do! We get to see friends and family who travel long distances. We bake, cook and shop. We buy gifts, decorate our homes and attend parties…the list of holiday activities is long!

Yes, the holidays are a busy and exciting time that are full of family traditions. Through the ages, in primitive and modern societies, our customs anchor and connect us to each other. Rituals and shared practices are the glue that binds families and social groups together. Traditions form our group identity and give us fond childhood memories.

What happens if you are a new member of the family? Perhaps you are a foster youth participating in a family tradition that only makes you feel like an outsider. Maybe this is your first holiday season with your adoptive son but you realize that your traditions have no connection to him?

It is important to involve your adopted and foster child in your holiday traditions, so they feel included. Be sure to discuss how and why your family started each tradition and what it means to each of you. Ask your child how he feels about the holidays and discuss his own traditions. Then create new holiday customs that are meaningful to your newest family member.

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Here is a list of ideas to help create new holiday traditions for your family:

  1. Make homemade gifts and cards to send to friends and family.
  2. Try a family baking day to make traditional favorites or find a new holiday recipe.
  3. Plan to watch your favorite holiday movie as a family or organize a family sing-a-long to your favorite holiday songs.
  4. Make your own holiday-themed family movie.
  5. Ask each family member to read his or her favorite holiday story aloud.
  6. Light a candle to remember someone special that you may miss.

Most importantly, make sure that everyone in your extended family is sensitive to the newest member of your family. Remember that holidays can be very unsettling for foster youth or newly adopted children and can result in feelings of grief, anger or memories of their past trauma.

Talking openly with your child about your customs, starting new traditions and understanding their feelings will help create a happy holiday season and new memories for your entire 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.

Everyone Can Be A Youth Advocate

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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. As many as 50 percent of youth who age out of foster care are likely to become homeless.

CASA 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 foundation 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 be a CASA volunteer, but everyone can be a youth advocate.

Here are some thing you can do to help older youth in need:

  1. Become a CASA volunteer or mentor an older youth
  2. Financially support organizations that work with teens
  3. Volunteer with an agency that provides assistance to teens
  4. Support legislators who promote laws supporting positive outcomes for foster youth
  5. Speak out and advocate against laws that may negatively effect foster youth
  6. 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 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.

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.