When Families Reunite Everyone Wins

One day at school, a seven-year-old Jonas was found with an apple-sized bruise on the back of his neck. His teacher brought him to the school nurse, who found more bruises on the child’s back, sides, and arms. Most disconcerting were the long, thin, vertical marks that stretched from his neck to the middle of his back. The result of a belt, the nurse thought.

The nurse asked the boy how he got the bruises.

“I scratched myself,” he replied.

The next day, a worker from child services was called into the school to speak with the child. In addition to the linear, vertical bruises on his back, he also had similar horizontal marks across his rib cage. His ear was swollen, his legs were bruised and scabbed, and he had dark marks on his behind and his bicep.

When the division worker asked the child how this happened to him, he said he was not in pain and that he scratched himself.

“Is your mokids_drawingther nice to you?” The division worker then asked.

The boy was silent.

Back at home, Jonas lived with his infant sister Mia, his mother, and Mia’s father. As a child, the mother had been disciplined with a belt and used the same manner to discipline her son. But one day after the child had made a mess, she struck her son seven times with a belt creating the bruises that the teacher, nurse and case worker were looking at now.

A Notice of Emergency Removal was issued, and the siblings were placed under the custody and supervision of the Division. Fortunately, the children were able to stay with their grandmother during this time.

CASA Volunteer, Bill was assigned to the children’s case. During a visit to Jonas’ school, Bill learned that he was having difficulty interacting with his peers; he would act out aggressively if other students got too close. His ability to focus also needed improvement. Bill asked the teachers if there were opportunities for counseling or training that could help. They suggested interpersonal relationship or anger management training, and Bill put in a request to the courts for these services.

Bill also sought out the children’s medical records and visited them at their grandmother’s house. When Mia was diagnosed with medical problems that were not being corrected with medication, Bill recommended early intervention services for her, which were ordered by the courts.

While the children were doing well with the grandmother, the children’s mother and boyfriend received counseling and continued to see their children on a regular schedule. She was making progress, even being diagnosed and now treated for PSTD, which she suffered from because of her previous service in the armed forces.

While CASA Bill continued to monitor the children’s well being, he stayed on top of the mother’s progress as well. When she was involved in a domestic violence issue with her boyfriend, Bill recommended supervised visits and an anger management course for both adults.

After six months of living with their grandmother, both children were improving. Mia was reaching her development milestones and Jonas was doing well in school both with his grades and interactions and relationships with his peers. The children’s mother and her partner continued to attend counseling and were also improving their relationship with one another and with the children.

After a year, the mother and her boyfriend successfully completed all of the recommended course and were finally at a place to make a safe home for their young family. At this point, CASA Bill had seen the progress made by both adults and recommended that the children be reunited with their mother. A few months later, both children were happily reunited with their mother and her boyfriend, Mia’s father. Young Jonas now receives all  A’s and B’s on his report card and Mia is an active 18-month old and can point to her nose and ears when asked.

Had it not been for CASA Bill’s diligence and dedication to this family, Jonas and Mia may have never had the opportunity to grow up together with their parents in a safe, loving home. Jonas’ mother was grateful for CASA Bill’s investment in her family saying, “He believed in me and my ability to provide a home for my children, his dedication to my children and to our whole family allowed us to heal.”

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Being the Voice for an Infant Living in Foster Care

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When CASA Volunteer Teresa first read David’s case file more than two years ago, she was horrified. David was sexually abused by his mother as an infant, and the Division removed him from her care when he was just six months old. Though shocked, Teresa did not hesitate to take on the case in her new role as a CASA.

“Right away, I thought, someone has to save this kid so he didn’t end up back there. If [sexual abuse] is already starting at that young of an age, I could only imagine how much worse it could get,” Teresa said. “I couldn’t even imagine someone doing that to their own child, especially at that age.”

In addition to the abuse by David’s mother, the mother’s boyfriend was previously charged with receiving child pornography, for which he was incarcerated, and he had received probation for having alcohol in the presence of an underage girl. He was perpetuating the mother’s sexual abuse toward David.

In the United States, the children most likely to be abused or neglected are younger than 18-months-old, and 80% of children who die from abuse are younger than four-years-old.

Teresa understands how important it is to advocate for foster children in this age group.

“They can’t speak for themselves; most of them are just learning to speak, and they don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong,” she explained. “They just want someone to love them and pay attention to them. If their parents aren’t the right ones for them, they may not know that. They need someone to be their voice.”

When David was removed from his mother’s home, he was placed in foster care with a very nice woman, and he stayed with her for more than two years. During that time, Teresa made sure that David was receiving the appropriate care at his foster home and that he had access to services that would ensure his continued safety and growth.

Teresa was always very happy with the foster mother; she took good care of David and shared Teresa’s understanding of advocacy, and the need to keep David healthy. Once David was in his foster mother’s care for a year, Teresa advocated to the court that he continue living there until permanency was established.

“From the beginning, if she saw anything, she would always fight for what he needed, medical-wise,” Teresa explained of the foster mother. “[David] had ear infections often, so his speech was delayed because it was affecting his hearing. So she pushed to get him to a specialist. She continued to push for his best interest in helping him reach his full potential.” Teresa also supported David by recommending these services through her reports to the court.

David was flourishing in his foster home. He was reaching his developmental milestones on time, he appeared happy during CASA visits, and he did well in daycare while his foster mother was at work.

“Every time I would go visit, David was always very affectionate [with his foster mother] and would go over and hug her and kiss her. You could tell from very early on that there was a bond,” Teresa said.

David’s foster mother had been very interested in adopting him for a long time, and Teresa felt that she would be a great fit for David. David’s mother has been in jail during his entire stay in foster care, and she signed paperwork to relinquish her parental rights. When potential placements with David’s grandparents and father were ruled out by the Division, David was finally able to be adopted by his foster mother.

Teresa was assigned to this case in early 2011, and David’s adoption took place just last month. We are so glad David had a dedicated CASA like Teresa and that he now has a forever family!

Teresa is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

CASA Volunteer Jonas Akpassa Goes Above and Beyond in Advocating for a Child

Every week, Jonas travels an hour and twenty minutes—one way—to visit the boy he advocates for as a CASA. When speaking with Jonas last week, he mentioned that he had just made an extra trip to visit his CASA child, Michael, age 14, because he had gotten into a fight with another student at school. The distance is never a problem for Jonas—he has to do this work, he said. Even if that means showing up to Michael’s school more than once a week.

“He hurts. He’s 14; it’s not like he’s five or six and doesn’t understand,” said Jonas of Michael’s experiences.

Before Michael was sent to the youth shelter about eight months ago, he had regularly been a victim of corporal punishment. Michael’s father has not been involved in his life in the last five years, and he was living with his mother and her paramour. The couple used force with Michael. As Michael’s misbehavior increased, so did the violent punishments, and vice versa. Michael’s mother ultimately called the Division to take him away. She informed them that she was scared of her son for acting out violently toward her.

However, since arriving at the youth shelter, Michael has been participating in individual and group therapy and is already showing much improvement with his behavior. He is also enjoying school and receiving good grades.

When Jonas first met Michael at the youth shelter, he was very quiet. But Jonas did not mind.

“It’s ok. You sit over there; I’ll sit over here,” Jonas told him, not planning on leaving right away. When it was time to depart, Jonas told Michael that he would be seeing more of him.

By the second or third visit, Michael was surprised. “I didn’t expect you,” he said.

“Well, you’re going to start getting used to it because you’re going to see me all the time,” Jonas said. Michael started laughing, and he began talking about sports and asked about Jonas’ life.

Being patient and consistent helped break the silence, and Jonas said showing Michael respect was most important.

“We all want respect; we all deserve respect. I personally think he doesn’t get that at home.” He added, “I honestly believe it’s not what we say; it’s how we say it. You have to get down to [the child’s] level of thinking for them to understand what you’re saying. Otherwise, they’re not going to listen.”

When it came to discussing Michael’s altercation with another student, Jonas was blunt with him.

“I have to put everything on the table,” Jonas said. “I told him straight up, ‘You can’t do that.’ You have to look at him straight in the face and say there are certain things you cannot do.” He then asked Michael why he hit the other student.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Jonas told Michael that he has to learn how to walk away from a student who is making him upset.

“Go to the library; give your teacher a hand, so you can walk away,” Jonas suggested, after speaking with Michael’s guidance counselor and teachers regarding the situation. His teachers are now aware of this plan, so if they see Michael walking toward the library, they know he is leaving a negative situation.

With each visit to Michael’s school, Jonas makes it a point to speak with his guidance counselor and see how things are going. What’s more, Michael knows to go straight to the guidance counselor’s office when he needs someone to talk to, and he enjoys speaking with her.

However, Michael often thinks about his family.

“He’s worried about his mom. He wants to be with his mom, but she doesn’t want to be a part of his life… she doesn’t call him, not even on his birthday,” Jonas explained.

Jonas encourages Michael to try looking on the bright side. “Tomorrow is always another day.”

When Jonas finally got Michael’s mother on the phone one day, he had a question for her.

“Why is everyone fighting for your son and you’re not? What can be that bad?” Jonas asked her.

She was quiet during the first few minutes of the phone call and then revealed that she is afraid of her son.

Reflecting back on this phone conversation, Jonas thought, “This kid is actually sitting back here worried about [his mother] and his other siblings.”

Michael does have grandparents in the area, and he speaks to his grandmother every month. His grandparents would love to adopt him. However, they are a bit concerned about his behavior. Jonas said the grandparents wonder if Michael’s behavior will revert.

In a couple of months, Jonas said a decision should be made for Michael. Regardless of what happens, Jonas is not giving up on him.

“I’m here. We can do this. We can make this happen,” Jonas told him.

Jonas is one of the over 170 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

Domestic Violence in Movies: Precious (2009)

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Directed by Lee Daniels and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Precious is a movie based on the novel, Push, that takes place in 1987 Harlem and portrays a heartbreaking story of domestic violence.

Claireece Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), who goes by her middle name, Precious, is a 16-year-old black girl who has been sexually abused and raped by her father since she was three. She fathered two of his children, and the first born has Down syndrome. Precious’ mother Mary (Mo’Nique) physically and emotionally abuses her on a daily basis. Her own grandmother is scared to take Precious in because she fears Mary’s reaction. To make matters worse, Precious tests positive for HIV, which she contracted from her father. She also cannot read, but she does learn how after being sent to an alternative school.

Living with her mother is extremely toxic. Mary hits Precious frequently and throws things at her if she does not listen to her commands. Additionally, she verbally abuses her and puts her down, calling her stupid, fat, and saying that she will amount to nothing. Lastly, she collects welfare, does not look for a job, and consistently tells Precious that education is useless.

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For a long time, Precious was too frightened to tell guidance counselors and teachers about what goes on in her home because her mother would react violently toward her. One time a guidance counselor showed up at Precious’ house unannounced, and the mother blamed it all on Precious.

By the time Precious’ second child, Abdul, is born, she runs away from home with her son because her mother abuses him, too. Mary sees that he looks just like his father—Precious’ father—and so she throws the infant on the floor. Then she attacks Precious.

Mary shouts, “You ruined my [expletive] life! You took my man, you had those [expletive] babies, and you got me put off the welfare for running your [expletive], stupid [expletive] mouth.” 

Precious replies, “I ain’t stupid! And I didn’t take your man! Your husband raped me!” 

Her mother snaps back, “Didn’t nobody [expletive] rape you!”

Precious manages to flee with her child, and she focuses on school and raising him.

At the end, Precious’ mother reveals why she hates her daughter so much. Precious is the one who made her father leave; he loved Precious more than her mother. While speaking to Precious’ social worker (played by Mariah Carey), Mary explains why she blames her daughter,

She didn’t scream or anything [when being raped], so it’s hear fault… who else was gonna love me?

Mary does not acknowledge that her daughter was raped until Precious’ social worker forces her to admit it. She questions how she could have let that happen to her own daughter.

This story is an  example of how being abused can perpetuate the abuse cycle, but fortunately Precious has risen above that cycle and has proven that she truly cares about her children.

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There were mixed reviews for this film. Some critics commended the performances and story line for its realism, while others insist that it was stereotypical and overdone.

To start, director Lee Daniels told Essence.com that the movie should be taken seriously. “Life is life. Life is what it is,” he said. [From the LA Times]

Here are some reviews that show the pros and cons.

ConMark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, told the New York Times, “People are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light.” He said there has always been a history of negative imagery in popular culture, which perpetuates the notion of black people being inferior.

ProLatoya Peterson, the editor of Racialicious.com, a blog about the intersection of race and popular culture, calls out those who believe black people should only be presented in an acceptable light. She said of one commenter against the movie, “He’s flattening the black experience, and in that way, he denies our humanity.” Peterson also thinks the movie touches upon many important topics that affect young girls, such as sexual abuse, poverty, violence, and doing poorly in school.

ConFilm critic Armond White said the movie is racist propaganda and a reminder that art and politics cannot be separated for black people.

ProA writer for blackchristiannews.com says, “I think everyone who grew up in South Chicago knew someone that was a Precious or a group of young women that had suffered abuse in different ways like Precious did. That’s what’s ‘hard to watch’ for me.”

Con:
Raina Kelley of The Daily Beast writes, “Her situation feels so extreme that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It becomes too hard to summon up any more outrage at the social worker who never figures out that something awful is happening in Precious’ home… I’m tired of movies presenting black people as grateful to find a helping hand to rise above their abusers. Not because we’ve seen this movie before…but because the story never changes. How about a ‘based on a true story’ tear-jerker that ends with some tangible improvements in the lives of impoverished children?”

Have you seen the movie? Where do you stand?

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Domestic Violence in Movies: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes is a movie that tells the story of two good friends in 1920s Alabama. The women—Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) and Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson)—grow up together, and Ruth eventually gets married, even though she doesn’t seem crazy about the idea.

After Ruth marries, Idgie visits and finds her with a black eye. She suspects Ruth’s husband Frank did this to her, and her suspicions are confirmed the next time she visits. During the second visit, Idgie and two male friends help Ruth pack up her belongings so she can permanently leave the house, but Frank comes home before they take off.

When Frank sees what is going on, he smacks Ruth in the face, causing her to fall against the staircase railing in their home. Idgie jumps on top of Frank and starts punching him in the head, but he slams her head against the wall and reaches for Ruth, who happens to be pregnant. He throws his wife down their staircase, and she lands directly on her stomach. Idgie threatens to kill Frank if he ever touches Ruth again, and the two women leave with their two friends.

Watch the scene here:

Had Idgie and the two friends not come to Ruth’s rescue, would she have eventually left her abusive husband? We may never know. Not leaving at one’s own volition is a common occurrence with domestic violence victims. This can be for a number of reasons, but a common one is fear that one’s partner will stalk them and either react with more violence or worse, attempt murder.

Stalking is shown in the movie as well. Once Ruth’s baby is born, Frank—clad in his KKK attire—appears in her home in the middle of the night, asking where the baby is. She tells him to leave and blocks their son’s crib. Before anything else can happen, a man walks through the door to ask Ruth if she’s okay. It is possible he saw the other clansmen with their lit torches outside Ruth’s house, and he suspected something was wrong. Once again, Ruth is rescued for the time being. Frank departs with an eerie, “I’ll be back.”

Watch the scene:

Currently in the U.S., Alabama has the second-highest rate of domestic violence killings (2011). When we thought about movies that take place in the south, several came to mind that happen to portray domestic violence or sexual abuse: Forrest Gump, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ellen Foster, and Hounddog, to name a few.

Does anyone else feel this way, and do you think it is a problem? Or do you think it is a fairly accurate, or necessary, portrayal of what goes on?

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Can Domestic Violence Be Stopped?

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This month, CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties will be focusing on domestic violence.

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background.”

Some background:

Eighty five percent of domestic violence victims are women.

Each year, approximately 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.

Emotionally abusive and controlling behavior are often accompanied with violence toward women. Unfortunately, domestic violence can take place for generations and can last a lifetime.

For children, observing violence between one’s parents or guardians can be devastating. This can lead to psychological problems, slower cognitive development, and the risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence in the future. [Source]

Thirty to 60 percent of individuals who abuse their intimate partner also abuse children living in the same home.

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Recently Lisa Firestone, a psychology expert on relationships, parenting, and self-destructive thoughts, contributed to the Huffington Post’s blog with her post, “Why Domestic Violence Occurs and How to Stop it.”

She provides a startling statistic: “74 percent of women stayed with an abuser longer for economic reasons, [and] 58 percent of shelters reported that the abuse is more violent now than before the economic downturn.”

From her research, Firestone found that psychological issues are a greater cause of domestic violence than financial problems. She notes two contributing factors:
1. Destructive thoughts
2. The illusion of a “fantasy bond”

Addressing the first issue, Firestone points out that in our society, men often feel the need to be stronger and more powerful than women. (She makes it a point to note, however, that men are also victims of domestic violence; they account for 15 percent).

“Being challenged by a relationship partner can be distressing, arousing fear and anger for some people,” she writes. This can lead to the destructive thoughts, which involves negative self talk and also aiming negative comments at one’s partner. When a person’s cognitive process is filled with thoughts such as–“She/he is controlling you. Don’t let her/him act like you are weak”–this can trigger violent behavior.

In addition to these destructive thoughts is the “fantasy bond,” or a couple’s idea that they cannot live without each other. Believing this type of connection exists within the abusive relationship makes it difficult for an individual to leave and seek help. What’s worse, staying in an abusive relationship further perpetuates the abuse.

How can the cycle of domestic violence be stopped?

Firestone suggests re-education programs, such as San Francisco’s Manalive program. Manalive helps individuals learn to recognize their feelings, acknowledge their behavior, understand what triggers them, and learn when to step back before acting out in violence. According to Firestone, a good rehabilitation program should focus on self-reflection, self-control, and empathy, allowing individuals to become resilient and more apt to show love and affection for their families.

Sources:

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