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.

The Inequalities of LGBTQ+ Youth Living in Foster Care

On June 28, 1969, the gay and lesbian community launched a series of violent demonstrations at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village New York City in response to a police raid. Known as the Stonewall uprising, these riots represent the foundation of the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in America.

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The situation on June 28 spun out of control very quickly and tensions continued to inflame protests that lasted several nights after the initial incident. Activists groups formed out of these protests, and places where gays and lesbians could gather without fear were established. A year after Stonewall, the first Gay Prides marches took place across the country including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. Fifty years later, just like so many marginalized groups, the LGBTQ+ family continues to confront ignorance, hate and inequality.

This struggle is particularly prevalent for LGBTQ+ foster youth.

Research shows that a higher percentage of youth living in foster care identify as LGBTQ+ youth as compared to the general youth population. While LGBTQ+ youth enter foster care for typical reasons – abuse, neglect, and parental substance abuse – many experience additional trauma associated with rejection, mistreatment, and abandonment because of their sexual orientation. Once the youth enter foster care they find a system that, besides the best intentions, subjects them to further bias and discrimination.

“I was told that foster families didn’t want a gay kid in their home, so I grew up in group homes and residential centers where I was abused sexually, physically and emotionally,” says Kristopher, who spent eight years in foster care (Foster Club and the Human Rights Council)

Protective discrimination laws and policies for LGBTQ+ foster youth are different in each state. This lack of a national standard, lead to a hodgepodge of legislation that fails to truly protect the LGBTQ+ foster population in any significant way. According to Foster Club and the Human Rights Council, only 13 states and the District of Columbia have explicit laws or policies in place to protect foster youth from discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Even in New York City, where the beginning of the LGBTQ+ movement was born, Foster Club conducted a survey that found 78 percent of LGBTQ+ foster youth moved or ran away from their foster placements because of hostility toward their sexual orientation or gender identity. The same survey found that 100 percent of LGBTQ+ youth living in group homes experienced verbal harassment and 70 percent endured physical violence which leads to increased incidents of homelessness because the youth feel safer on the streets than in the institutions that are meant to protect them.

“LGBTQ youth are at greater risk of experiencing violence, and they are at higher risk of experiencing negative health and life outcomes, such as low graduation rates and mental health issues. With this knowledge, it is imperative that we support youth who identify as LGBTQ and make sure they develop in such a way that they are enriched, rather than being so disenfranchised. In child welfare, that starts with the foster care placement process, where we can surround children with supportive relationships and resources.” Terrence (Terry) Scraggins in an article for The Chronicle of Social Change, November 26, 2018

In addition to a greater instance of homelessness, LGBTQ+ youth are even less likely to achieve permanence through reunification, kinship care or adoption – further isolating, traumatizing and creating more obstacles for the youth. These challenges can lead to even more devastating outcomes for the youth including poorer physical health, mental well being, and educational outcomes.

Anytime that a youth fails to meet their fullest potential is a failure on our systems and policies that are meant to protect them. We must take greater care in standing up for and guiding LGBTQ+ foster youth so that they too will overcome these harsh inequalities and  become role models for the next generation of LGBTQ+ youth.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.