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.

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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.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Representing the Children in Foster Care

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Bounced among foster homes, lawyers, and caseworkers, children in foster care need a consistent, caring advocate, and for children of Hispanic heritage, it is particularly important that their Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer understand and respect their culture. In many instances the number of Hispanic and Latino children in foster care outnumbers the number of CASA volunteers, which means children are often assigned to a CASA volunteer with a different ethnic background.

 

Former CASA volunteer and Pleasantville resident, Yasna finds her heritage allowed her to develop a closer relationship with the children on her case. When Yasna first took her, her CASA child was frightened and unresponsive to those trying to help her. Then the young girl met Yasna, who spoke in the girl’s native Spanish language, and she immediately became comfortable and opened up to Yasna. “Everything totally changed when she could speak Spanish. We had a communication bond, and she came to me when she needed help,” Yasna said. Growing up in Miami, Yasna explained, it was easy for her to find someone who spoke Spanish, but in many communities, fluent Spanish speakers are rare. Navigating the foster care system is already complicated, but with English as a second language, the experience can be overwhelming.

 

Cultural competency is more than overcoming a language barrier; sensitivity to traditions and values builds trust between the CASA volunteer and the child. “Every single Hispanic culture is different, but the method of upbringing with a foundation of family is there (in all cultures),” Yasna said. Despite their differences, with most Hispanic and Latino cultures, there is a commonality of having deep passion for family. “We love to fight, but at the dinner table, we all love each other,” she said laughing. Although the CASA children have come from an abusive home-life, their propensity to reflect their culture is still there, she explained.

 

As a CASA Volunteer, you try very hard to keep emotion out of your interactions with the children. However, for Hispanic culture, Yasna says, “you need to bring emotion out to form a trust with the child.”

 

According to Casey Family Programs, Hispanic children are more likely to be placed in foster care and for longer periods than their White, non-Latino peers. Because of this, it is essential that the CASA volunteer and child relationship be based on trust, rapport, and an ability to understand and appreciate the child’s culture and traditions.

 

A more diverse volunteer base will better match the cultural make-up of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of Hispanic and Latino volunteers makes it difficult to meet the need. Understanding how children feel about their heritage and being able to communicate and relate to their traditions can make the difference between the child feeling alone or appreciated and self-assured.

 


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 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

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.