The 12 Days of a #CASA Christmas

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On the first day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
directions for my court hearing

On the second day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the third day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the fourth day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the fifth day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the sixth day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
six court report edits
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the seventh day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
a seven-page abuse allegation
six court report edits
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the eighth day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
eight more dockets
a seven-page complaint
six court report edits
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the ninth day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
nine families waiting
eight more dockets
a seven-page complaint
six court report edits
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the tenth day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
ten lawyers making arguments
nine families waiting
eight more dockets
a seven-page complaint
six court report edits
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the eleventh day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
eleven caseworkers typing
ten lawyers making arguments
nine families waiting
eight more dockets
a seven-page complaint
six court report edits
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

On the twelfth day of Christmas my Program Coordinator sent to me:
twelve judges judging
eleven caseworkers typing
ten lawyers making arguments
nine families waiting
eight more dockets
a seven-page complaint
six court report edits
a five sibling case
four case assignments
three dates for training
two court orders
and directions for my court hearing

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Substance Abuse — The Thief that Robs Parent from Child

What do we really want for our children? We want them to grow into kind, functioning adults who are joyful, find their purpose and ultimately contribute to society. Easy stuff right? Under the best of circumstances, that’s a pretty tall order.

sadchildParents will do whatever it takes to help their children reach these goals. It can be challenging. For starters, kids need safety and security and food and shelter. But also important are clothing, medical care, heat in cold climates, lessons in hygiene, boundary setting, emotional support, socializing. The list goes on and on. But love and consistency are at the center of developing a young child, born full of potential, into a healthy adult.

But what if, as a parent, you don’t have the all the tools you need? What if you realize the big job ahead of you? What if you get scared? Or you don’t have the best coping skills? What if drugs or alcohol gave you relief? Or, you thought it did.

Enter substance abuse into a family, and even a child’s most basic needs are at risk.

Though each child’s experience will vary, most children of parents who suffer from substance abuse face a myriad of issues that affect the child’s entire life:

A parent might not come home at night, leaving the children to fend for themselves;

Mom cannot keep promises and may not even remember a promise was made;

Dad may have trouble keeping a job and struggle with paying bills, providing food or medical care;

Mom cannot help with homework, prepare meals or provide lessons in personal hygiene.

Consider this child, a child of a parent who suffers from substance abuse and you can imagine him going to school hungry, perhaps unwashed, in unclean and poor fitting clothes with incomplete homework. He or she, most likely on top of all that they endure at home, will experience teasing and bullying at school. He or she, most likely, has no coping skills to deal with the day they’ve been given.

Add family fights, neglect and emotional or physical abuse, and that’s a recipe that can lead to a child or children being removed from their home and placed into foster care.

Foster care can isolate a child, preventing them from forming healthy relationships with their peers. We can hope their teacher offers kindness instead of a reprimand for incomplete homework. Hopefully, the cafeteria server sees a hungry child and gives an extra helping and offers a smile. But in spite of the kindness offered, the feeling of hopelessness is a natural response to being removed from their home, and even though it is through no fault of their own, the child feels responsible for tearing the family apart.

With all that suffering placed on their small shoulders, the child begins to lose focus at school, they act out, they cannot see a future for themselves. All too often, they feel lost, confused and voiceless.

Fortunately, for a child living in foster care, their hope, their voice comes in the form of a CASA volunteer. A CASA volunteer may be the only compassionate, consistent adult in that child’s precarious life. One single bond from a caring adult can give hope to a child who deserves joy and the opportunity to reach their potential. One single bond can save a child’s life.

CASA volunteers are trained in the complicated issues of families dealing with substance abuse. A CASA volunteer can help guide families to the resources and the support they need to help break the cycle of substance abuse, get their family back together and ensure another child, another family, is given the opportunity to thrive.

Learn more at AtlanticCapeCASA.org

 

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.”

Helping Children Find their Forever Family

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From dedicated foster parents, to a biological grandmother single-handedly raising her grandchildren, it is a family’s love and support that makes them picture perfect. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, more than 1,000 children are living in foster care.

Thankfully, with the help of a CASA volunteer, a child lingering in the child welfare system is not an option.

Once a child is removed from their home due to abuse and neglect, three different outcomes can arise:  reunification, kinship legal guardianship, or adoption. Behind each court docket, a child is hoping for a forever family, and here are their stories, as told by their CASA volunteer.

Reunification

When CASA volunteer, Anna met the little boy on her case, he was in a body cast to properly mend his broken bones. After being injured at home, he was removed from his mother and placed in care with a cousin. “When I first got involved with the case, he was delayed in speech, mobility, and potty training,” Anna said. Reunification with his biological mother did not seem to be a viable option.

CASA Anna ensured he received special services and was enrolled in special education classes. For the first time, he was not merely surviving but thriving. While he progressed, his biological mother was determined to have her child back home. “From parenting classes to counseling, she did everything she was advised to do,” Anna said. “She worked hard to get her boy back.”

Anna continued to visit with the case workers, foster parents, and the biological mother, and despite the obstacles, reunification with mother and child became more than a hope – it became a reality. After much work and support, the boy’s mother was ready to make a home again for her son and he finally returned to his mother’s arms and his forever family. “Reunification is a good option when the parent and child have a warm, comfortable relationship, and the parent will do whatever it takes to get the child back,” Anna said. “Luckily in this case, his mother was once again able to provide a safe, loving home and I could fully support him being returned to her care.”

Kinship Legal Guardianship

As a cockroach crawled across her foot, CASA volunteer Kathy knew this was not a safe home for children. Brother and sister, ages 5 and 3, were removed from the bug-infested apartment and safe from their father’s drinking, after neighbors called child services. When CASA Kathy took the case the children were delayed mentally, and although they were safe in their grandmother’s home, they were still swatting away invisible bugs as they struggled to sleep. “The parents were not emotionally capable of caring for their children, and they would show up in preschool with diapers that were days old,” Kathy said.

The children adored their grandmother, and the transition to their new home was smooth, but parental visitations proved to be problematic. “When the children had visited with their parents, the next day at school the boy would be agitated and crazy, and the daughter was nervous,” Kathy said. Finally, the biological parents abruptly decided to move out of the state, leaving their children’s court case unfinished and their grandmother with the responsibility of raising the children on her own.

“There was no question where these children should be; It was a no brainer, and I made clear in my reports that I supported the grandmother caring for the children,” Kathy said. Their grandmother happily became the children’s Kinship Legal Guardian (KLG). “This (KLG) is a great option. Why go into foster care if you have a caring family member who is willing to take on raising the children. In this case the grandmother was more than able, and the children adored her,” Kathy said.

Adoption

Due to their biological mother’s severe history of substance abuse, two brothers were placed in a foster home. “The foster parents were trained as medical specialists and worked with special needs children,” CASA Joe said. “It was a smooth transition; they fell in love immediately.”

From the beginning, the biological mother said, “I will do anything to get them back,” but no matter how hard CASA Joe tried to help and support her, she delved further into drug use. “The drug use finally caught up with her,” said Joe. Before the case was closed, the boys’ young biological mother died of an overdose.

Before relinquishing his rights, the biological father, who had never known his sons, asked to hold his children for the last time. “When this happened, the boy looked over to his foster father and said, ‘Daddy hold me.’ At that moment, I knew this child and his brother had found their forever family.” Joe said. The boys were officially adopted the following year into a loving, happy home environment, and Joe was honored to help bring a forever family together. “Everyone has a chapter to play in the child’s life, but you can’t ever forget the reality that they endured on the road to finding a home. Even after you know they are safe, you will still think about them and are glad that you played a small role in their finding a forever family,” Joe said.

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Rainy weather did not stop nearly 100 children from participating in the annual Atlantic City Marathon Kids Fit Final Mile on Saturday, October 12. The one-mile run benefited CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

Before the run, children had the opportunity to decorate their running bibs, get their faces painted, and interact with different mascots from the area, including McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog and the Law Enforcement Explorers, of the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office; Seaweed the Sea Turtle, of the Atlantic City Aquarium; the Red Raider, of Ocean City High School; Supercan, of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority; the Cat from WPUR Cat Country 107.3; The Brave, of Absegami High School; Ocean City’s Martin Z. Mollusk; and the Rain Forest Café’s Cha-Cha the Tree Frog.

Texas Avenue School of Atlantic City was a big supporter of this event for the second year in a row, with 50 students participating this year. It is an opportunity for the school to promote health and fitness, and several of the teachers set an example by running alongside their students. The students’ and teachers’ enthusiasm showed, as they held up signs as they ran, which read, “Texas Ave School Runs for CASA!” Their student Hrithik Mazumder, 12, finished in first place, carrying his Texas Avenue sign with him across the finish line.

Thank you to Texas Avenue School; our sponsor: the Atlantic County Council of Education Associations, all of our runners, and all of our wonderful volunteers, including 14 students from the Egg Harbor Township High School Interact Club.

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

 

Atlantic City Kids Fit Final Mile is One Month Away!

There is a great opportunity for you to “DO AC” next month. The Kids Fit Final Mile is officially one month away! We are grateful and excited to announce that the Atlantic County Council of Education Associations has sponsored the fun run this year.
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There will be face painting, running bib decorating, and mascots interacting with kids before the run! Right before the kids run, there is also a Mascot Fun Run that you won’t want to miss.

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All proceeds from this event will benefit the efforts of CASA and its trained volunteers, who speak on behalf of abused and neglected children in the foster care system and ensure that they are placed in safe, permanent homes.

Have you signed up your children yet? It’s only $15 if you register before Oct. 1, or $20 the day of. Registration begins at 8 a.m. the day of the run. Register today! http://atlanticcitymarathon.eventbrite.com/

Date: Saturday, October 12, 2013

Start Time: 11 a.m.

Location: Bally’s Dennis Courtyard, Park Place and the Boardwalk, Atlantic City, N.J.

For more information, contact CASA at 609.601.7800, e-mail stef@atlanticcapecasa.org, or visit our website: http://atlanticcapecasa.org/FunRun.aspx.

With Treatment and Support, a Young Mother Overcomes Her Struggle with Substance Abuse

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Every year across the nation, between 550,000 and 750,000 children are born after prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, and substance abuse by a parent is one of the top reasons for children’s removal from their home.

Danielle is one of these children.

When Danielle was born, she experienced withdrawal from the opiates her mother Erin took during pregnancy. After the symptoms persisted, the infant was hospitalized for a month to receive treatment. She was also experiencing hearing problems in one ear and a heart murmur.

While it is often difficult for parents struggling with substance abuse to overcome their addiction, 22-year-old Erin had emotional support from her mother, sister, and CASA volunteer, Lynda, and the desire to get better so that she could be a part of her daughter’s life.

Lynda was assigned to the case when Danielle was eight months old. At this time, Erin was enrolled in a Mommy and Me program with Danielle. While Lynda observed the baby to be healthy and happy, she knew that the young mother would need support to successfully get through her treatments and ultimately get her child back.

“My first time meeting Erin, she seemed very young and overwhelmed. She was learning a lot about being a mom from the other young moms in the program. But I saw a lot of good things happening,” Lynda explained. She said the mothers enrolled in the program would take their babies to the nursery in the morning before going to their treatments and counseling during the day.

“Erin understood that I was there as her daughter’s advocate and that meant supporting her recovery as well. She was very open to our relationship,” Lynda said. “She could see there was value in having someone who wasn’t from the child welfare office. Erin knew that I was there to make sure her daughter had everything she needed and that Erin was making improvements in caring for her daughter.” She also knew she could confide in Lynda and trust that she was there to help her family.

“My relationship was that of encourager,” Lynda said. “Erin seemed to be very mature in that she distanced herself from her prior relationship because she needed to work on herself. I thought that was a mature thing to do because that’s exactly what she was needing to do at that point.”Through the Mommy and Me program, Erin improved her ability to bond with Danielle and quickly became comfortable in her role as a new mother. They were doing so well that Lynda recommended to the court that Danielle continue to stay in Erin’s care as she completed rehabilitation.

After six months of Mommy and Me, Erin successfully completed the program and was relocated to a halfway house with her daughter. When Lynda visited, the director of the halfway house said of Erin, “I couldn’t be happier about her progress.”

Danielle had been doing well in her mother’s care. Lynda noted that 11-month-old Danielle was able to say, “mama” and “baba,” and that she seemed inquisitive.

“When I met her, I could see that she had that desire to be a good mom and to do what’s right for her child,” Lynda said of Erin’s successes in her rehabilitation programs. “Since that meant getting off drugs, she was willing to do that, and the change in her is clear.”

“When under the influence, you’re not functioning with your full capabilities,” Lynda said. Rehabilitation helped Erin think clearly and learn how to be a nurturing mother, something she struggled with when her daughter was first born.

Erin did so well at the halfway house that she and Danielle were released earlier than the typical six month stay. She then completed an intensive outpatient program. Along the way, she also successfully completed mandatory parenting classes.

Erin and Danielle, who is now 18 months old, are adorable together, Lynda said. “She is very conscious of Danielle’s safety; it’s a priority for her. She’s really gentle and sweet with her… She doesn’t have unrealistic expectations for a child that age. She’s really playful with her, speaks kindly to her, doesn’t seem frustrated. She seems very content with being a mom.”

Currently, Erin and Danielle reside with Erin’s mother. Erin’s goal is to go back to school and get a job. Lynda tells Erin to focus on her goals so she can continue earning credits, even if it is one or two classes at a time; if she works hard, she can accomplish anything.

“If anybody can do it, this young mom can. She’s very smart and has the support of her mom. That’s huge. You have to be careful who you’re hanging out with. Erin has been able to weed out the friends who are not a good influence. She had a lot going for her and continues to have a lot going for her.”

Erin is fortunate that she was able to get her life back on track, and having Lynda as her CASA volunteer was paramount. Lynda encouraged Erin to make life decisions that would benefit her and Danielle, and in her role as advocate, she brought to the court’s attention what was in the child’s best interest.

Lynda 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.