A Natural Advocate

Bendelon is a natural advocate for children.  Her career as a teacher and social worker in the schools prepared her well for her role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

“I saw how many of foster children’s issues weren’t being addressed, mostly because the case workers have so much on their plates,” says CASA Bendelon. “Some of the children suffered from low self esteem and may have trouble reaching their full potential.”

Being a CASA has been a way of Bendelon continuing her lifelong work of helping children. Her first case was very gratifying because the child, who was given up at birth, was adopted by his foster parents. The child wouldn’t endure what so many others in the system do – being shifted from one situation to the next. “I was happy he ended up with the only ‘parents’ he had known since birth. That was a positive outcome,” says CASA Bendelon.

Her most recent case involves three children from the same family.  They are all on track to be adopted by their foster families. She is working with the families so that the children get to see each other even though the two youngest are with one family and the oldest is living with another.

Moral Development

CASA Bendelon went to the school of the thirteen year-old boy, “I told him I was his advocate. I was here for him,” she says.  “He really opened up to me and asked me tough questions about his birth mother. I told him she loved him enough to give him a chance with his prospective adoptive parents.”  The boy was really self aware and showed appreciation for the foster parents, who are in the process of adopting him. CASA Bendelon shared with him that “where you start doesn’t have to be where you end.”  She is confident he has a chance for a better life.

“I am a people person. It helps me since CASA’s have to talk to many people in advocating for the children,” CASA Bendelon says. She thinks being committed to the well being of the children first and foremost is paramount and sometimes that means being assertive, too.  Echoing a CASA theme, she says, “I am here for the child.”

 


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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Campus Moving Day

As my friends are all dropping off their nearly adult children at colleges and universities this month, I am reminded of my parents dropping me off at college for the first time. I stuffed everything that I could into the gigantic trunk of my father’s baby blue Caddy – which was a lot – and traveled north to Rhode Island where I would begin my life as an “adult” – or so I thought – unfettered to parents, making my own daily decisions. This was what I had been waiting for.

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So, we drove and drove and finally arrived with all of the other freshman, whose families had packed their cars and driven distances great and small to give their children a better opportunity, maybe one that they hadn’t even had for themselves. Families filled the whole campus and not once did I ever think that a freshman might not have a family. The notion never even crossed my mind. I am sure that there were kids moving in the same day as I, without a family, without a trunk filled with their most prized possessions.

At the time, of course, I was not looking at my first day on campus through my parents’ eyes, or through the sacrifice that they made for me. However, as I see my friends making the same drive now, I finally see it through their eyes – the optimism of what is to come for their children, being proud of their accomplishments, and worried over the missteps that they will – undoubtedly – make along the way. Knowing that their relationship with their children will forever change the day that they leave them at their dorm room and drive away.

As I think about that day now, I have a different perspective. Not just from the experiences of my friends taking their children to college, but because of my work with an organization that advocates for youth living in foster care.

With this new viewpoint, today I think about the thousands of kids moving onto campus across the country this month, I think of the many foster youth who will not even have that opportunity – 70 percent of foster youth want to go to college, but only 39 percent enroll (Courtney, Terao, & Bost, 2004). I think about the only 10 percent who will graduate with an advanced degree by the time they turn 25. (Courtney et al., 2011; Pecora et al., 2006). I think about all of the foster youth who will drop out of college after their first year (Day, Dworsky, Fogarty, & Damashek, 2011) and I think we can do better; we must do better for these youth.

Once in college, foster youth struggle with the same matters that have challenged them their entire lives – making and keeping friends, mental health, lower academic achievement, getting and keeping employment, lack of healthcare, and, poor independent living planning. Add to the mix that many of these youth do not have the financial resources or strong adult role models to help guide them through difficult times and you have a recipe for adversity.

With all of these factors creating a barrier to a college education, one of the most significant is the lack of emotional support. These kids just do not have the support, that I had, or my friends kids have, to make it – only 34% of youth leaving foster care report a long‐term significant relationship or mentor (Munson & McMillen, 2009). Supportive adult connections – mentors, teachers, CASA volunteers, community leaders – are critical to a foster youth’s success, not just in college, but also throughout life.

These connections will empower a youth to realize their own potential, help them through challenging situations, point out resources and, help ensure that they too have a trunk full of their most prized possessions and the tools that they need to begin their successful “adult” life – after all, isn’t that what we want for every youth?

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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

Courtney, M., Terao, S., & Bost, N. (2004). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Conditions of youth preparing to leave state care. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Day, A., Dworsky, A., Fogarty, K., & Damashek, A. (2011). An examination of post‐secondary retention and graduation among foster care youth enrolled in a four‐year university. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(11), 2335–2341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.08.004

Hayes Piel, Megan (2018) Challenges in the Transition to Higher Education for Foster Care Youth https://doi.org/10.1002/cc.20288

Munson, M. R., & McMillen, J. C. (2009). Natural mentoring and psychosocial outcomes among older youth transitioning from foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(1), 104–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2008.06.003

Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., O’Brien, K., White, C. R., Williams, J., Hiripi, E., … Herrick, M. A. (2006). Educational and employment outcomes of adults formerly placed in foster care: Results from the Northwest foster care alumni study. Children & Youth Services Review28(12), 1459–1481. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.04.003

Pecora, P. J., Williams, J., Kessler, R. C., Hiripi, E., O’Brien, K., Emerson, J., … Torres, D. (2006). Assessing the educational achievements of adults who were formerly placed in family foster care. Child & Family Social Work11(3), 220–231. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2206.2006.00429.x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Tiddlywinks Helped a Family Reconnect

David, 3, and his sister, Allison, 2, were placed in foster care when their mother entered a year-long substance abuse program on the West coast. A CASA volunteer was appointed to their case. Unable to visit their mother, the children’s memories of her began to fade. Later, their mother, successfully discharged from her program, contacted child welfare to arrange visitation with David and Allison. She feared they would not remember her and that the reunion would be awkward. She shared her concerns with the CASA volunteer, who suggested she break the ice by playing the children’s favorite game – Tiddlywinks.

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The mother was unfamiliar with the game, but the CASA volunteer taught her how to play. When David and Allison arrived for their visit, they were thrilled to find their mother and CASA volunteer engaged in the game. The children joined in, and the CASA volunteer quietly excused herself from the room. Visits with their mother continued and eventually, David, Allison, and their mother were permanently reunited.

More CASA volunteers are needed.
Learn how you can become a CASA. https://atlanticcapecasa.org/getinvolved/

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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.