The Role of the CASA Advocate is One of Patience

Hank greets everyone with a big, welcoming smile and friendly blue eyes. His presence is comforting, and that is especially important because Hank is a CASA for Children advocate who speaks on behalf of children living in the foster care system.

Children living in foster care have experienced traumatizing abuse or neglect. A comforting, consistent, caring adult, like Hank with a bright smile and a big heart, is just what these children need at what could be the saddest time of their young lives.

When you listen to CASA Hank talk about the two girls, ages five and seven, and their nine-year-old brother who he advocates for, you hear how much he genuinely cares about their welfare.


You can hear the excitement in Hank’s voice when he talks about the boy, who we will call Jack, and all the potential he sees in him. The first time Hank met Jack at his school, Hank says, “He met me with a big grin and immediately interacted with me. It was a very gratifying experience.”

Hank and Jack formed their first connection over baseball, discussing the great Hank Aaron during one of his visits. On the next visit Hank says, “This little boy was so excited to tell me all about how Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.” On the next visit Jack is “telling me all about Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King. He is such an impressive and engaging little boy. We can only hope the system we have can do right by him,” said Hank.

Jack’s two little sisters, who we will call Molly and Kristen, have also touched Hank’s heart. They live in a different foster placement from their brother, as often happens when multiple siblings are removed from their home.

In spite of the trauma the younger Molly has experienced, “she is still a typical five-year-old, excited as she runs to show me her latest craft or coloring project,” said Hank. However, Hank’s eyes sadden a bit when he recounts a conversation with seven-year-old Kristen. “When I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to tell the judge, she answered, ‘Tell the judge that I don’t want to be a foster kid anymore, tell him I want to go home,’” Hank said.

While Hank stays focused on the children, the case still involves the adults as well, including foster, biological, and adoptive parents. The challenges facing many of the adults in the children’s lives sometimes compound the trauma that the children have already experienced – their mom disappears for two months, then returns; their dad is not initially in the picture; the foster parents were not interested in adoption, and then later wanted to adopt. It is easy to see how the children’s voices can get lost in the process. Even when Hank was certain that the children were finally going to realize their “forever adoptive home,” the case took a different path as the children’s father, now in a stable home and relationship, stepped in to bring his children home.

When Hank met them at their family court hearing, he could not help but notice a close and affectionate relationship between dad and son. You could see that “Jack was proud of his dad,” said Hank.

For Hank, because regardless of each family circumstance, “As a CASA,” Hank says, “even though I may be conflicted at times…I give the court my observations and let the judge take it from there. In this case, there is a dad who loves his kids and the kids want to go home.”

Hank’s role as a CASA has changed his view of the child welfare system. It has also been both a spiritual and analytical journey for him. After years as a member of a hospital board, “It was time for me to have more personal contact. I wanted to be a positive person (making a difference) on an individual level,” Hank said.

CASA advocates bring so many skills and personality traits to their role. As Hank spoke about his case, it was easy to see how important every one of these traits are to be CASA. For Hank, he will continue to advocate for the best interest of Jack, Molly and Kristen…watching over them, hopeful that their journey will have a happy ending – that is what being a CASA is all about: making a difference, one child at a time. @CASA4Children


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


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.


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.


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:

The National Center for Fathering

Fatherhood Factor

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


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.

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.