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.

The child holding a red heart

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.

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.

 

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

 

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.

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Rainy weather did not stop nearly 100 children from participating in the annual Atlantic City Marathon Kids Fit Final Mile on Saturday, October 12. The one-mile run benefited CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

Before the run, children had the opportunity to decorate their running bibs, get their faces painted, and interact with different mascots from the area, including McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog and the Law Enforcement Explorers, of the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office; Seaweed the Sea Turtle, of the Atlantic City Aquarium; the Red Raider, of Ocean City High School; Supercan, of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority; the Cat from WPUR Cat Country 107.3; The Brave, of Absegami High School; Ocean City’s Martin Z. Mollusk; and the Rain Forest Café’s Cha-Cha the Tree Frog.

Texas Avenue School of Atlantic City was a big supporter of this event for the second year in a row, with 50 students participating this year. It is an opportunity for the school to promote health and fitness, and several of the teachers set an example by running alongside their students. The students’ and teachers’ enthusiasm showed, as they held up signs as they ran, which read, “Texas Ave School Runs for CASA!” Their student Hrithik Mazumder, 12, finished in first place, carrying his Texas Avenue sign with him across the finish line.

Thank you to Texas Avenue School; our sponsor: the Atlantic County Council of Education Associations, all of our runners, and all of our wonderful volunteers, including 14 students from the Egg Harbor Township High School Interact Club.

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

Kids Fit Final Mile 2013

 

Madison Meeks’ Port Day Bake Sale

Madison Meeks, 14, of Port Republic, hosted her fourth bake sale to benefit CASA for Children at Port Day on June 15, 2013. She baked brownies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal Scottie cookies, and muffins, and her grandmother baked a variety of cupcakes. Almost everything was sold out by the end of the event, and Madison raised nearly $400, surpassing previous years. We are so grateful for Madison’s continued support of CASA!

Port Day

Port Day

Port Day

Port Day