Caring for Children

Right now 437,000 children and youth, as young as infants and as old as 21 years of age, are living in foster care across our nation due to abuse, neglect, or worse. Leaving their home is a traumatic experience, one that will affect their whole life in ways that those of us who never spent a day in foster care can ever imagine.

We may think of foster care as a modern concept, but in fact, caring for others’ children dates back to the earliest days, with references even found in ancient religious texts. Some surrogate families, in early accounts, were even compensated for looking after children who lost their parents, possibly to famine, accidents or early death.

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Taking in children in these early days can be seen as act of kindness, but the earliest laws allowed impoverished children to become apprentices, often remaining in “service” until they became of age. According to Adoption.org, the first instance of this form of “foster-servitude” in this country was traced to a seven-year-old boy who lived in the nation’s first colony of Jamestown in 1636.

By the mid-19th century, American philanthropist and social reformer Charles Loring Brace, considered the father of the modern-day foster care movement, established the Orphan Trains and founded the Children’s Aid Society. The Orphan Trains, remarkably, relocated 200,000 abused, abandoned, and homeless children from Eastern cities to foster homes in the Midwest between 1854 and 1929 – mostly with little or no follow-up to see how the children were doing or being treated.

Slowly, federal and state government began to recognize the importance of ensuring children’s safety with their surrogate families and began licensing and approving families before placing children with them. By 1935, the federal government passed the Social Security Act which included grants to child welfare agencies and for foster home inspections, essentially establishing what we know as the modern-day foster care system.

Some key federal laws were initiated and passed after 1935, including the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act of 1978, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, and the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, to name a few. One of the biggest federal child welfare reforms, however, did not come until 1980, with the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. This Act established procedural guidelines, including court reviews, within the foster care system.

Right in the middle of those early laws, a family court judge in Seattle Washington established the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in 1976. While sitting as a judge in juvenile court, Judge David Soukup, “realized that there was no one in the courtroom whose only job was to provide a voice for those children. It struck me that it might be possible to recruit and train volunteers to investigate a child’s case so they could provide a voice for the child in those proceedings, proceedings which could affect their whole lives.” Judge Soukup’s founding of the CASA program, and CASA’s expansion across the country has, like many federal laws, improved the lives of the thousands of foster youth.

In 2018, nearly 40 years after the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, child welfare changed radically again with the Family First Prevention Services Act. This Act, the most extensive and dramatic overhaul of the foster care system to date, prioritized keeping families together by providing funding, resources, services, and limiting institutional settings for youth.

If history repeats itself, we may have to wait another 40 years for major child welfare reform – and too many children need our help now.

The foster care system, and our society, look much different from the days of the Orphan Trains but the fact remains that families, just like those in the 1850’s, struggle with an array of challenges including addiction and mental health.

While foster families, the courts and child welfare professionals are critical foster care partners, individuals can also play a role in safeguarding a successful future for foster youth by getting involved with organizations that support children and families. By becoming a mentor or a CASA volunteer, donating services or goods to youth living in care, or lending a helping-hand to a foster parent or caregiver, you become part of a community whose sole purpose is providing comfort, guidance and encouragement to future generations.

Our supportive work with youth now ensures that no matter how long we have to wait for the next child welfare reform, the children and youth who need us now will not be left behind.


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.

 

References
History Of Foster Care In The United States https://nfpaonline.org/page-1105741
When Did Foster Care Start? https://adoption.org/foster-care-start
Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Act_for_the_Relief_of_the_Poor_1601
Orphan Train https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphan_Train
Charles Loring Brace https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Loring_Brace

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.

The child holding a red heart

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.

Magical Monday July 29 in Ocean City, N.J.

Magical Monday is just a couple weeks away! Get your unlimited ride wristband for $20 at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier the day of the event: July 29, 1-4 p.m. This event benefits CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

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