Let’s call it what it is – Peer Abuse.

Let’s call it what it is – Peer Abuse.

Let’s call it what it is – Peer Abuse.  With bullying, the dominant figure unsuspectingly presents as your peer, your equal and traditionally during childhood a crucial time for brain development, social skill development and confidence development.

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Studies consistently show that victims of peer abuse are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, isolation, and fear. Often times, the abused do not confide in their parents or teachers. These feelings fester, and if left untreated, can have profound, long-term effects on a child’s social development that carries into adulthood and presents in a myriad of emotional, physical and psychological symptoms ranging from sleep and eating disorders to mental illness.

It is well understood that abusers target the vulnerable, those unlikely to retaliate. So bullies target the one in their midst who tends to be different, the one who does not have the support, the confidence or the coping skills to properly stand-up for oneself.

The child-victim is most vulnerable.

Bullies find the children who are different, the children who “do not fit in.” The taunting only emphasizes to that child that they may be different, and stresses their vulnerability with their peers.

Imagine that you are a displaced child – like many children living in the foster care system. If children in a familiar environment with strong family and other relationships do not vocalize the abuse to trusted adults, what are the chances a child feeling alone and unsupported will reach out for help?

Many believe some type of intimidation is a normal, childhood rite-of-passage. To many, the thought of a “bully” brings to mind the caricature of the biggest kid on the playground not picking you for his dodgeball team. But today, with the many additional electronic, and often anonymous, ways that children can be bullied, the big kid on the playground represents only a small fraction of the modern bullying reality.

But whether the bully is the big kid on the playground or the anonymous text stalker, one thing remains constant – when you consider the victims – who and why they are victims – and the long-term effects of their being victims – you clearly see that bullying is and always will be abuse.

 

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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.

The Importance of Fathers and Positive Male Role Models for Children

black-father-with-childrenI recently read a post originally published on Earl Hipp’s Man-Making blog in 2012. While the post may be a few years old, the message is timeless and one that we don’t talk about as much as we should. Legions of boys, and girls, are growing up without a father, or father-fugure. The absence of a father has a profound negative effect on children, especially boys. These are some of the statictis regarding children who live without a father (from The National Center on Fathering)

  • Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.”
  • A study of 1,977 children age 3 and older living with a residential father or father figure found that children living with married biological parents had significantly fewer externalizing and internalizing behavioral problems than children living with at least one non-biological parent.
  • Children of single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to commit suicide.
  • 71% of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills.

Even in our own organization, we see the positive impacts that a male volunteer has on boys or young males, many of whom are fatherless or living without a positive male role-model. One of our male volunteers was the first to ever play catch with a 10-year-old boy, another played basketball with a boy for 6 weeks before the boy would utter a single word to him, another was able to develop such a strong bond with a young man that he learned that the boy had a grandfather that no one else knew about – the grandfather eventually gained full custody of his grandson.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this month, let us remember that more than 20 million children live without a father and millions more have a father who is emotionally absent. As we know from the statistics above, children that grow up in fatherless homes have a multitude of challenges that extend into their adult life.

Thankfully, many organizations are tackling the fatherless issue by engaging and inspiring fathers, and father figures, to be active in their children’s lives and providing the resources to help reverse the fatherless trend in America.

See more at

The Good Men Project: http://goodmenproject.com/

The National Center for Fathering http://www.fathers.com/

Fatherhood Factor http://fatherhoodfactor.com/

The Need for Diverse CASA Volunteers

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Volunteering to help children requires a special patience and an ability to see that child’s experiences though their own eyes. It is not surprising that an adult volunteers’ own ethnic background and cultural sensitivity play an important role in relating to and connecting with children and youth.

We see this everyday at CASA for Children. Our mission is to train adult volunteers to advocate for children living in foster care. We know that cultural competence and gender diversity is critical to providing the most effective advocacy for the children we serve. That understanding each child’s unique qualities and showing respect for traditions and values will strengthen the work we do for all children living within the child welfare system.

CASA volunteers should represent the population of children served. Unfortunately, in Atlantic and Cape May Counties, nearly 30% of the children living in foster care are African American but only 13% our volunteer base is African American. Just less than 50% of the youth served are boys, but only 20% of our volunteers are men.

CASA takes great steps to ensure that all volunteers are culturally competent regardless of race or gender, but no amount of training can fully teach behavior, attitude or communication that is learned organically within each diverse population.

Which is why a truly diverse volunteer base is crucial to reflecting the children served in our community.

Cultural competency is more than overcoming a language barrier; sensitivity to traditions and values and understanding gender roles builds trust between CASA volunteers and the children they help. “Every single culture and child is different, but the method of upbringing with a foundation of family is there in all,” CASA Volunteer Yaz Babich said. Although CASA children have come from an abusive or neglectful home, their propensity to reflect their culture and who they are still exists, she explained.

According to Casey Family Programs and the Child Welfare League of America, African American children are more likely to be placed in foster care and for longer periods of time than their White, non-Latino counterparts.

A more diverse volunteer base will better match the cultural make-up of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of African American volunteers make it difficult to meet the need. CASA Volunteer Coordinator, Sara Passaro said, “Understanding how children feel about their heritage, ethnicity and being able to communicate and relate to their situations can make the difference between the child feeling alone or appreciated and self-assured.”  

Individuals interested in becoming a CASA volunteer call (609) 601-7800, email Julie Bellezza at Julie@AtlanticCapeCASA.org or visit http://www.AtlanticCapeCASA.org/VolunteerInfo.aspx. The next two training classes are scheduled for March 2014.