The Role of the CASA Advocate is One of Patience

Hank greets everyone with a big, welcoming smile and sparkling 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.

pexels-photo-590472

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.

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Substance Abuse — The Thief that Robs Parent from Child

What do we really want for our children? We want them to grow into kind, functioning adults who are joyful, find their purpose and ultimately contribute to society. Easy stuff right? Under the best of circumstances, that’s a pretty tall order.

sadchildParents will do whatever it takes to help their children reach these goals. It can be challenging. For starters, kids need safety and security and food and shelter. But also important are clothing, medical care, heat in cold climates, lessons in hygiene, boundary setting, emotional support, socializing. The list goes on and on. But love and consistency are at the center of developing a young child, born full of potential, into a healthy adult.

But what if, as a parent, you don’t have the all the tools you need? What if you realize the big job ahead of you? What if you get scared? Or you don’t have the best coping skills? What if drugs or alcohol gave you relief? Or, you thought it did.

Enter substance abuse into a family, and even a child’s most basic needs are at risk.

Though each child’s experience will vary, most children of parents who suffer from substance abuse face a myriad of issues that affect the child’s entire life:

A parent might not come home at night, leaving the children to fend for themselves;

Mom cannot keep promises and may not even remember a promise was made;

Dad may have trouble keeping a job and struggle with paying bills, providing food or medical care;

Mom cannot help with homework, prepare meals or provide lessons in personal hygiene.

Consider this child, a child of a parent who suffers from substance abuse and you can imagine him going to school hungry, perhaps unwashed, in unclean and poor fitting clothes with incomplete homework. He or she, most likely on top of all that they endure at home, will experience teasing and bullying at school. He or she, most likely, has no coping skills to deal with the day they’ve been given.

Add family fights, neglect and emotional or physical abuse, and that’s a recipe that can lead to a child or children being removed from their home and placed into foster care.

Foster care can isolate a child, preventing them from forming healthy relationships with their peers. We can hope their teacher offers kindness instead of a reprimand for incomplete homework. Hopefully, the cafeteria server sees a hungry child and gives an extra helping and offers a smile. But in spite of the kindness offered, the feeling of hopelessness is a natural response to being removed from their home, and even though it is through no fault of their own, the child feels responsible for tearing the family apart.

With all that suffering placed on their small shoulders, the child begins to lose focus at school, they act out, they cannot see a future for themselves. All too often, they feel lost, confused and voiceless.

Fortunately, for a child living in foster care, their hope, their voice comes in the form of a CASA volunteer. A CASA volunteer may be the only compassionate, consistent adult in that child’s precarious life. One single bond from a caring adult can give hope to a child who deserves joy and the opportunity to reach their potential. One single bond can save a child’s life.

CASA volunteers are trained in the complicated issues of families dealing with substance abuse. A CASA volunteer can help guide families to the resources and the support they need to help break the cycle of substance abuse, get their family back together and ensure another child, another family, is given the opportunity to thrive.

Learn more at AtlanticCapeCASA.org

 

Helping Children Find their Forever Family

twokids

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

An Aunt’s Wise Words Inspired Trish to Become a Foster and Adoptive Parent

Trish always knew she wanted to adopt a child one day, but she was hesitant to become a foster parent at first. “I was terrified of falling in love with the child and then having them leave, especially if they left to a situation that wasn’t ideal,” she explained.

It is her aunt’s powerful words that led Trish to change her mind. Ten years ago, Trish’s 17-year-old cousin lost his life to cancer. After his death, his mother—Trish’s aunt—told her, “I had 17 years with my son. And I loved all that time that I had with him, and I would never sacrifice that to spare me the pain of losing him. You can’t not bring someone into your life for fear that you might lose them.”

Trish had not thought of it like that, and these words truly changed her outlook about becoming a foster parent. From there, she and her husband thought, “We have to go for it.”

Six years ago, Trish and her husband finally had this opportunity. The couple took in three sisters who were removed from their home due to suspicion of parental drug use and possible neglect. The sisters were 11, seven, and six years old when they were removed from their home, and they were placed with Trish and her husband shortly after.

The girls were struggling with many emotional problems. Their CASA volunteer, Clare McCarroll, observed that Erin, seven, seemed very angry and would frequently have meltdowns, while Maddie, six, appeared very nervous and clingy, often bursting into tears. Clare noted that a therapist helped Erin and Maddie ease their anxieties and better learn how to verbalize their needs. Lauren, the eldest sister, was also struggling emotionally and was upset about her mother not being there for her. She ultimately chose to live in a youth shelter, but Trish and her husband have always invited her into their home each week because they feel it is important for the girls to maintain a sibling relationship.

About year after taking in the sisters, Trish and her husband took in another foster child, Sally, who is the siblings’ niece. Sally, who was born premature, was six months old and weighed 10 pounds when she arrived at the couple’s home. Sally’s biological mother, age 20, was unemployed, habitually smoked marijuana, and had postpartum depression and untreated bi-polar disorder. She had truly neglected Sally; she routinely fed her diluted whole milk instead of baby formula, never treated Sally’s diaper rash, and had her sleep on a dirty mattress on the floor because her own belongings took over the baby’s crib. The biological father, also 20, struggled with substance abuse.

“When they brought Sally to me, I felt like she bonded with me immediately,” Trish said. She held a birthday party that night for one of her foster daughters and invited extended family. “Sally would watch me as I walked around house. She was so hungry, sucking down bottles. It was an immediate connection, I felt.”

CASA volunteer Robie McKinnon, who was assigned to Sally’s case, noted how much improvement Sally made with Trish and her husband. After just two months, Sally had already gained seven pounds, and her pediatrician said she was now at a healthy weight for her age group. She continued to reach appropriate developmental milestones during her time with them.

While there was a great connection between them, Trish said it was difficult at the same time. “I felt so connected and I was afraid that if she ever left… I didn’t want her to have that feeling that I didn’t care about her because I knew she wouldn’t understand why she left… She is just pure joy. I can’t imagine my life without her. She’s so precious.”

Sally came into Trish’s life at a time when she truly needed to be taken care of. However, it was more complex with Erin and Maddie because they were older and more aware when they came into her care. “They always thought they were going back [with their mother],” Trish said of their demeanor when they first came to live with her. “Their mom would make DYFS out to be wrong, and she put herself in the role of the victim, and the kids bought into that. This made it difficult for them to adapt.”

Three months after the sisters were brought into the couple’s home, CASA Clare observed great improvement. The family even went on a trip to Disney World together. Erin and Maddie expressed their desire to be adopted by Trish and her husband, and the couple was eager to adopt the sisters as well.

The day finally came when Erin and Maddie had to say goodbye to their mother, and a final meeting was scheduled. However, it was a very stressful day; their mother never showed up.

“[Their mother] kept saying she was late but on her way, but it went on to be three hours late,” Trish said. “Finally, I said, this is done. Their mom had no intention of saying goodbye to them. We had so much nervous tension bound up because the kids were afraid to see [their mother] and say goodbye. And they were wondering how she could not come say goodbye.”

Trish had an idea to ease the tension. When the goodbye meeting was called off, Trish resorted to music. She put on Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.”

“‘I said, ‘This is our song, girls.’ And we ran around house. I’ve never in my life had that much tension. I could have ran a marathon… And this morning, that song came on! Every time I hear it, I cry.”

When the girls finally accepted that their mother was not coming for them, Trish said it became a lot easier for them; they had a final answer. Trish commended their therapist, who she said was wonderful and helped them so much through the process.

Sally was adopted by Trish and her husband about a year after her aunts. CASA Robie said she was thrilled with the couple and was happy that they were planning to adopt Sally. She still sees Sally from time to time because the family keeps in touch. “She’s the brightest, most adorable little girl, and happy and a lot of fun. We have tea parties when we get together,” she said of Sally, who is now five.

“We’re a family, and families kind of morph and change and grow,” Trish said. “Especially these days; remarriages, divorce, step children. And I think that [adopting from foster care] doesn’t have to be an extraordinary situation. We’re just a normal family now.”

National Foster Care Month and How You Can Help

National Foster Care Month takes place every May, and it is a way to spread the word about the realities faced by children and youth in foster care.

Here are some statistics:

-In the United States, more than 400,000 children and youth live in foster care (1).

-In 2011, about half of these youth lived in a foster home without relatives (2).

-About 30,000 older foster youth leave the foster care system each year without finding a forever family (1).

-Of the children in foster care in 2009, more than 114,000 were waiting to be adopted, but only 57,466 children were adopted that year (3).

-About half wanted to be reunited with parents or primary caretakers.

-In 2010, more than 240,000 children were served by Court Appointed Special Advocates and Guardian Ad Litem volunteers. These  volunteers are assigned to the most difficult cases where abuse and neglect were involved (3).

-Approximately 245,260 children left foster care in 2011. Thirteen months is the median amount of time these youth spent in care (4).

  • Of these youth:
  • 52 percent were reunited with parents or primary caretakers
  • 20 percent were adopted
  • 11 percent were emancipated
  • 8 percent moved in with a family member
  • 6 percent moved in with a guardian
  • 3 percent had different outcomes

 

You can make a difference. Here’s how:

-Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASAs advocate in court for children in foster care who have been neglected and abused, and they help ensure that they are placed in a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.

-Help CASA raise community  awareness and recruit volunteers.

-Spread the word!

  • Share this blog post or any of these statistics on your social media accounts or via e-mail.
  • Talk about it at work or with family and friends.
  • Participate in events in your area that support the cause.
  • Make a financial contribution.
  • Keep the conversation going throughout the year.

*     *     *     *

Sources:

[1][2][3][4]