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.

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.

When Extended Family Are Caregivers

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

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

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

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

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

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


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

 

May Is Foster Care Awareness Month

May is National Foster Care Month, when we shine a light on the nearly 1,000 children and youth living in foster care in Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the 13,000 children who face the same fate statewide. Every day, CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the network of CASA programs throughout New Jersey recruit, train and support members of our community who advocate on behalf of children and youth living in foster care. We work to ensure that these children have access to resources and services that will improve their outcomes, raise awareness of the obstacles they face and help them overcome those obstacles.

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Sometimes our work feels like an uphill battle, and not every story ends with a positive outcome. But, we are energized and encouraged by the success stories that we do see – the girl who catches up academically with her class even after losing four months of school because she moved three times in the last year, or the teen who receives a scholarship even though only 20% of foster youth even go to college, or the boy who is finally reunited with his parents after a year in care because they received the help that they so desperately needed.

These success stories are possible when caring adults are active in a foster youth’s life. With a supportive team, that includes child welfare professionals, teachers, therapists, foster families, the family courts, and Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, the foster youth can achieve all of their hopes and dreams. This whole team is crucial to ensuring that foster youth reach their fullest potential.

So this May, consider how you could fit into a team helping foster youth succeed. Could you fill a direct service role of CASA volunteer, youth mentor, or foster parent? Would you rather donate goods or services to youth living in care, attend or host a fundraising event that supports foster youth, or, lend a helping-hand to a foster parent or caregiver?

Your role can be big or small. At the very least, consider joining the conversation. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about the obstacles facing foster youth and ways that our community can work together to provide support systems for them. Most importantly, understand that children enter foster care through no fault of their own and the challenges that place children in care affect every social, economic and geographic community. No one is immune, and no one should face these challenges alone.

 


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.