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.

My Two Moms

The following excerpt is from an essay written by a foster youth applying for a special summer education program at a local university.

My two moms are the most influential women in my life. In deciding who I want to become and what I want to accomplish in life I look to them. In some ways they are so different but when it comes to what matters they are the same. My birth mom, Kaya, is black and was born in South Africa. My adoptive mom, Alice, is white and was born in New Jersey. My mother, Kaya, had a hard life in Africa and wanted a better life. She moved to America all by herself. This is important because she has had to do everything on her own and make her own way. She struggled for a long time and we were homeless for years. Having lived in various homeless shelters made me realize that I needed an education to be successful so I would not have to go back to the shelters.

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For nearly five years I have lived in foster care with my soon to be adoptive family. My family tree is pretty complicated with a lot of branches! My adoptive family consists of my mom and dad, their two birth children, one adopted daughter, me, and my little sister who is also being adopted. Alice, my adoptive mom, is a strong and amazing woman like my birth mom. She has had a very different life though and is finishing her fourth advanced college degree. She works two jobs while getting this degree and still manages to make dinner for the whole family each night.

As you can see, both of my moms have worked very hard to get where they are. They are both an inspiration and I love them both equally. They have both impacted me in different ways and have made me into the young woman I am today. I hope to continue the path of helping others for the rest of my life.


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.

Foster Parenting as a Career

Although controversial, the idea of treating fostering as a full-time paid position, is gaining in popularity. A handful of governments are experimenting with this idea. In 2016 Illinois implemented a pilot program with professional foster parents. Parts of Texas started using professional foster parents in 2017.

Increasingly, children come into foster care with serious behavioral and mental issues. These issues require intensive training and understanding.

Jill Duerr Berrick, professor at the School of Social Welfare at UC – Berkley, states that the idea emerged from a realization that some foster children have extreme needs. Also, over the past 70 years, the number of foster homes have declined significantly. Two parent homes, with a stay at home wife, is no longer the norm as it was in the 1950’s.

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Berrick states “professionalizing foster care isn’t just about the money. It means you’ve been thoughtfully trained and supported to do a good job.”

Retention rates are low for foster parenting. In fact, a study of over 5,000 foster parents showed a 30-50% of foster parents quit within the first 18 months. Half of those cited lack of support and training.

Controversial? Yes. Many believe fostering should remain altruistic. “Kids know the difference between a job and not a job,” Tracey Field is the director/manager of the Child Welfare Strategy Group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She feels this model, “really reimagines foster care – but not in a good way.”

Professional foster parents usually foster the children with serious mental, emotional or behavioral issues. In Milwaukee’s Professional Foster Care Program, these children have many appointments throughout the week. This requires a full-time commitment from the foster parent; they cannot hold another job and still support the child’s needs.

Some children feel they are just cash cows when any money is involved. Others feel differently. Heavenly Morrow, lived with professional foster parents in Milwaukee from age 16 – 17; she stated she never felt like her foster parents were in it for the money.

 


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 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.

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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.

http://atlanticcapecasa.org/
Facebook.com/CASA4Children
Twitter.com @CASA4Children

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