The Brightest Moments: Seeing the Children in a Good Situation

Before moving to Cape May in 2014, children occupied a central part of Sarah’s life in northern New Jersey, where she was an elementary school teacher and mother of five children. When she retired and moved more permanently to southeastern New Jersey, she considered how she could continue to influence children’s lives as a volunteer. Sarah got that answer one day in church when she heard a discussion about organizations the church supported and what they did. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children was one those organizations.

Shortly after that, Sarah read a newspaper article about CASA and decided to attend an information session. Since then she has helped navigate the cases of nine children living in foster care. “Teachers bring the ability to coordinate with many different parties in the best interests of children’s academic success. That skill translates well when working as a CASA volunteer who must coordinate between the child, parents, resource parents, the court and case workers among others to find the best possible plan for the child,” said Sarah.

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Sarah notes that building relationships is key to fostering trust. Trust ensures that all parties involved feel comfortable that the recommendations CASA’s make are the best possible for the child. She often asks herself the question, “Did I help to break the cycle so this child has an opportunity for a better life?”

Sarah admits she has learned about the hurdles these children face. “I lived and taught in an affluent area and until you sit with people in more difficult circumstances, you can’t really understand their struggles,” she said.

Sarah’s brightest moments are when she sees the children end up in a good situation – attending an adoption ceremony or seeing children reunited with parents who have overcome their obstacles.

Now as a Peer Coach, Sarah expands her sphere of influence by mentoring other new advocates as they begin their first cases. She loves that being a CASA is a hands-on activity, actually working with the children of Cape May and Atlantic Counties. “If you are a people person and like building relationships and meeting people, then CASA may be a volunteer opportunity that appeals to you,” Sarah said.

She sometimes thinks she gets more out of being a CASA than the children she serves. Nine children, who are now in more stable situations – adopted or with birth parents – who may just think otherwise.

 


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.

Invested in Her Well Being

A few year’s ago, Melissa attended a CASA breakfast at which a young child
spoke. He shared his experience with Court Appointed Special Advocate’s and the
difference a CASA made in bringing some stability to his life. Melissa, who has four
daughters, couldn’t imagine children not having the security of knowing that someone
was invested in their well being. She decided she could offer that to children who
needed advocacy as a CASA volunteer.

“People sometimes think that being a CASA requires a lot but it really just requires that
you are there for the child…that you are caring and committed to that role in the child’s
life,” Melissa said.

Melissa shared an experience with a nine year-old girl who was one of her first cases.
The child had a violin concert at school. Melissa attended and sat in the audience,
clapping for the performance, “I wanted to make sure she knew that someone was
there for her when she looked out into the audience. Her face brightened when she
saw me and she whispered to the little girl pointing to me. That’s when I thought, ok, I
am making a difference in her life right now.”

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Her next case has had its challenges but it is one that Melissa feels uniquely equipped
to handle. “I have raised four daughters, so when I was assigned a 17-year-old, I drew
on my personal experiences of having four teen-aged girls in the house!”

Melissa also drew upon her experiences as a health coach. She clarified that you can’t
always tell teenagers what to do but you can coach them and guide them. Melissa
asked the teen-aged girl, “What are your goals and what are the next steps in reaching
those goals.” She notes that it is harder with teenagers who have bounced around the
system, often from one situation to the next. Many don’t have the parental guidance
and the security to draw upon in making decisions or in reacting to day-to-day
situations.

“Sometimes your instincts are to direct the child to do what you think is best for them,
but you have to step back, listen and understand,” Melissa said. ” CASA’s have an
important role to play as advocate and procedures to follow. But everyone else has a
role, too. You learn that you can offer stability and perspective in the best interests of
the child yet sometimes you can’t solve every problem. That’s okay, you can still be there
for that child during a time of transition.”

Melissa’s first child, the violin player, was reunified with her parents. “The hard part is
not knowing what the future will bring for that child. I hope I made a difference for the
window of time I was her advocate—that she knows I was invested in her well being,”
Melissa said.


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.

Meant to Be

Being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children living in foster care was a natural fit for Beth, who spent her long career as a special education teacher. Newly retired, Beth ran into an old friend by chance, who knew someone who was a CASA volunteer. “It would be perfect for you,” this friend said. So, Beth took up the challenge and signed up for CASA training. Within a few months, she began advocating for three siblings.

Mother playing with her two daughters.

The children were living in foster care due to their mother’s substance abuse and reported domestic violence in the home. The eldest child, who was eight at the time, often cared for her younger siblings, age five, and, one and a half years old, in her mother’s absence.

On her first visit with the children, Beth could see that, despite their removal, the children adjusted to their foster home. They warmed up to Beth right away, asking her to play with them and they talked openly with her. During the coming months and years, Beth’s visits continued and she came to know the children and their needs very well and communicated those needs to the courts.

Thankfully, Beth said, “Everyone involved in the children’s life worked well together. The children’s birth mother was working hard to have her children return home and she was appreciative of Beth’s concern for her children. The foster parent was also happy to have Beth visit and pay attention the children’s needs.” When the foster parent felt overwhelmed, she confided in Beth, as did their children’s mother. The children continued to make progress, and do well in school and most importantly, their mother seemed to be on the road to recovery.

For the next two and a half years, Beth was the constant voice in the children’s life and every time she visited, the children would run smiling, excited to see her. Beth was their devoted advocate.

The dichotomy between the messiness of the lives of children in foster care and the serendipity of Beth’s experience was not lost on her. “Everything in this situation was as good as it can be under the circumstances. The resource parents cared and communicated well. Their mother worked hard to get them back. Things probably would have worked out the same for them whether I had advocated for them or not. But I made things easier,” she added. “I was extra help. I was someone to talk to. And I was the constant.”

The children are finally back home with their mother. Day-to-day life is full of challenges for them but they are glad to be together. Beth still stops by and visits regularly and the children are still thrilled to see her. The children’s former foster parents still visit and babysit on occasion, glad to have the children in their life and the children’s mother is happy to have the help.

Beth says she is ready to take on a new case and says she will continue to be a CASA for as long as she is able…maybe, it just so happens, that being a CASA is exactly what she was meant to be.


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.

Being a CASA Volunteer is Richly Rewarding

Mary spent 40 years teaching young children in southeastern New Jersey schools. Throughout her career, she saw children who clearly had “more to deal with than they should in their young lives.” She saw firsthand the impact of poverty and drugs on her young students. Mary made sure they were supported and cared for while in her classroom and wondered what they had to deal with when they left her safe haven for home.

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Her compassion for children in difficult situations led Mary to explore being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) after retiring. A fellow teacher was an advocate and shared her experiences. “I felt that as a teacher I could be effective with younger children who might be experiencing problems in the classroom,” said Mary. “As a teacher, I had insights as to how to find the right person to help a child or help a family member to navigate a complex system.”

Recently Mary did just that. A grandmother of a child whose case Mary previously handled called her to ask help with the little girl who was having difficulty in school. Mary said, “The grandmother turned to me because I knew how to help her help this child because of my experience as a teacher.” Not long after, Mary was reassigned to the case and is helping advocate for this child again providing consistency and know how.

After three years as a CASA, Mary has accepted the role of a peer coach – she is now part of a support team that helps other CASA volunteers as they work their cases. She finds the work rewarding. “This is a really supportive environment. CASA’s get extensive training and then have a peer coach who can help them as they take on their first cases,” Mary said. She often texts or calls her CASA’s to see how they are managing and offers her understanding when things get tough. When one of her advocates had a hard day in court, Mary called her so the advocate could just talk about it with someone who would understand.

Mary says that anyone who cares about children would find being a CASA richly rewarding, “There are so many children in this area who need our help. It’s so important.” Mary added, “It’s all about the children.”

 


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.

 

Making an Impact in the Lives of Children

After successful careers, Steven and Kathleen moved to Ocean City and looked forward to having their children and grandchildren visit them during their retirement. While they enjoyed having visits with family members during the beautiful summer months, they began looking for volunteer opportunities. It was Kathleen who first suggested that they look into volunteering for CASA.

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“My wife thought it might be something we could do together,” said Steven. “We attended the orientation, and Kathleen felt it wasn’t the right fit for her at that time. I thought it was a good fit for me and hoped I could make an impact as a CASA.” Steven also said his own experience of having someone close to him who suffered from addiction that impacted children persuaded him that his personal insights and skills as a program manager would be helpful in the role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). His hunch proved true. Steven worked first with an older child who aged out of the system but with whom he still stays in touch.

As a CASA, Steven uses his ability to address complex issues, manage timelines and build relationships with people to seek the best possible solutions for these children. Yet he acknowledges sometimes it is difficult work, “Over the course of a single case, we can work with several different case managers, judges or attorneys, and we are often the only stability a child has during this period of uncertainty.” In his view, giving a child stability makes the work worthwhile.

Steven’s current work with a five-year-old boy, Adam, has given him satisfaction on many levels. When he walks into the room and sees the child smile at his arrival, he knows he has made a meaningful connection. Steven recalled one time that Adam was sad to see him leave during a regular visit. Steven explained that he had to go home to cook his wife dinner. “At the next visit, Adam suggested that if I taught my wife to cook her own dinner, I could visit longer,” he said.

Steven enjoys the personal connections that build trust with a child. Ultimately, he hopes his ability to leverage relationships can positively influence finding the best possible situation for each child for whom he advocates. His influence has expanded recently by becoming a Peer Coach for three new CASAs. As a peer coach, he helps the novice CASA’s find the resources they need as they approach their new roles. “With our CASA Volunteer Coordinator, me, as the peer coach, and the CASAs, we have a whole team of people working for the best interests of the children.” And that is a recipe for making an impact in the lives of children.

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.

Youth Pursues Dream of Going to College with Help of CASA Volunteer

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Allan, a semi-retired pharmacist, read a book years ago that affected him profoundly, “Throw Away Children”, by Judge Lisa Richette. In her clarion call for reform, the author recounts many heart-wrenching cases of children who fell through the cracks of the juvenile court system – children who are left feeling unprotected, unloved and bereft of hope or opportunity. Allan remembered those stories when his wife, Bobbie, mentioned that she thought he would be a good Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

“She thinks I can get things done and some of these kids just need someone to help them get things done,” Allan explained. “I just naturally advocate for those who need help. When my mother was in a nursing home, I was there all hours ensuring she was well cared for. I bring those skills to my role as a CASA.”

In February 2018, this naturally gifted advocate attended a CASA training and was assigned his first child, a teenager who had bounced around in the system and had recently been rejected by his mother again. Allan is the first one to say he was lucky to get this young man as his first CASA child: “Despite all the hurdles this young man experienced during his childhood, he was motivated to do well in school and to strive for a better life. He just needed some assistance to get into a situation that was supportive and stable.”

One of the many roles CASA volunteers serve is to navigate the complex system in order to get the best possible outcome for the children. They coordinate with social workers, educators, the courts and different agencies, an often daunting task even for seasoned professionals. Working with others, Allan’s ability to network and advocate helped him cut through some of the bureaucracy to see that his child got the resources he needs to pursue his dream of going to college. Allan also worked well with the young man’s social worker to get him into a stable environment. The judge assigned to the case commented on their effective teamwork on behalf of the child. Lately, Allan has been helping the young man with college applications.

“He blossomed from a reticent child into a young man who has been better able to confide in me and to trust again. It is gratifying that he wants to study social work so he can help others,” Allan said. Allan encourages those who desire to make a difference to explore becoming a CASA. “I made my difference,” he said. Thanks to Allan’s advocacy one child, who could have fallen through the cracks, is on his way to realizing his dreams.

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.

Why Halloween can be Overwhelming for Foster Kids

Written by Darren Fink for Transfiguring Adoption on October 23rd, 2017

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Why Something Fun Like Halloween Can be Overwhelming for Foster Kids

  • Your foster kiddo isn’t with their biological parent(s)
  • They are trying to learn all sorts of new house rules
  • They might have a new school to get used to during the day
  • Your family probably eats different foods than they are used to
  • This kiddo might be having fun at your home and feel like they are betraying their biological parent(s)
  • The same chemicals in the body given off during a stressful situation are given off during a fun and exciting situation; probably the same chemicals that were given off when they experiences trauma in the past
  • Trick-or-Treating = Super Fun = Chemicals Release = Remember Past Trauma = Meltdown

3 Tips for Enjoying Your Trick-Or-Treating Adventure

  1. Tell them what to expect, which helps with anxiousness caused by the unknown
    • Do you expect everyone to stick together?
    • Are you going to houses or a Trunk or Treat?
    • Will there be a lot of people? A lot of noise? Will they get bumped a lot?
      (Children with sensory issues especially need to know this)
    • What do they need to say at the door? Do you expect them to say, “Thank You?”
  2. Expectations after Trick-Or-Treating are as important as during
    • Do you check the candy before letting kids into the bags?
    • Do you let the kids eat as much as they want on Halloween night?
    • Do you expect your kids to keep their same bedtime?
  3. Better to call it quits early
    I know you probably remember Trick-or-Treating in seven different neighborhoods for four hours when you were a kid. However, as we discussed above, our kids get overwhelmed and tired easily. Set the bar low for the night. Maybe half the Trunk or Treat event or 10 houses. Avoid the meltdown and make it a memorable night. The candy can always be purchased from the store.