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.

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.

Understanding How Trauma Affects Children

Guest Blog by Jeff Warren for CASA SHaW (Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties)

Over many decades we have learned more about foster care and the children placed within resource homes. They are moved because of outside circumstances beyond their control. They are often confused. There is massive stress permeating their lives.  There are struggles. And there is trauma inflicted within them.

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We have accumulated more widespread knowledge over the past decade about how mental and physical trauma affects children, their growth, education, overall well-being, and how it has negatively manifested itself into a societal cycle we aim to break. We are becoming more and more aware of what trauma is and how we can combat it. Our Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) understand, through their training, how traumatic experiences in children impact them in an array of ways. We must continue to educate the public at large if we want to see more positive results and vicious cycles broken.

Based on a report commissioned by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), we know that nearly half of all children in the United States, a staggering 46%, have experienced at least one traumatic incident in their lives. These traumatic experiences are:

  • Abuse and neglect
  • Exposure to substance use and abuse
  • Parents or guardians who spent time in prison
  • Experiencing economic hardship
  • Divorce
  • Witnessing domestic abuse
  • Living with a mentally ill adult
  • Victim of or witness to violence in their neighborhood
  • Death of a parent

Childhood trauma a very serious public health issue, and the effects are profound.  More of our population in the United States is in prison than any other time in the history of our country. More of our population continues to become addicted to alcohol and other drugs. If we want to alter how childhood trauma affects us as a society in general, we must look to combat the aforementioned issues that deeply affect children and their families.

There is a good chance that you know someone – and it doesn’t matter what age – who has been through a traumatic event in their life. The trauma they’ve faced will, in some way shape or form, dictate aspects of their life. Now is the time to consider what happened to them, not question what is wrong with them. Let’s continue to educate our communities about the harmful effects of childhood trauma and embrace changes to the way we think so we can all get better as a society. If we all make a small difference, we can all help families and children make a big difference in their lives. By having just one caring, trusted adult in a child’s life can buffer the effects of trauma. That’s why CASA is here for our local community.

 


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.

Seeing Things Through

Marylou rolls up her sleeves and gets things done – whether it was during her career in consulting or as a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald house where she has volunteered for years. As she explained, “I like to be hands on not behind the scenes but directly with the people who need the services.”

Responsibility comes first

So, when Marylou “failed” retirement, not once but twice, she began searching for a place to volunteer in the Cape May County area where she and her husband have a home. Her husband attended an Avalon Lions Club meeting where CASA presented. That night, he told her that he had found a perfect fit for her – matching her need to be hands on with her great organizational skills.

Four years ago, Marylou embarked on her new role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and has since advocated for eight different children. “My husband says I am relentless,” she said. “I want to see things through and as a CASA you have to persist to get the resources the children need.”

CASA Marylou also credits her ability to build relationships with creating opportunities for dialogue between biological parents, foster parents, caseworkers, and the many other people who are involved with the children. She says it can be overwhelming particularly for the child to have to interface with so many people. Sometimes the case will go on for an extended period, and caseworkers may change, the child may go into a different foster home, often out of the county of origin. Then the child and the CASA have to start anew with a different system and different people. The only constant in the child’s life is the CASA volunteer.

CASA Marylou’s compassionate character means she wants to solve all the children’s problems and it frustrates her knowing she sometimes cannot. She noted that teenagers present unique challenges. Younger children are adopted more often, and teenagers sometimes are in the system until they age out. Marylou wishes there were more resources to help these teens transition from the foster system to adult life. She has been working on one case for nearly four years and the teenager is likely to age out.

Despite these challenges, CASA Marylou has been able to see many of the children end up in stable environments – either through reunification or adoption. She will continue to use her energy and talents to benefit children through her volunteer efforts at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia and in Cape May County as a CASA. Marylou’s husband was right: CASA was a good fit for her and the children of Cape May County who need advocates like her.

 


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.