Staying Positive and Reuniting

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Portion of an interview with a mom who reunited with her daughter after overcoming substance abuse. Names have been changed and details have been altered to protect the family.

  1. We realize you have been through a challenging journey in being reunified with your child – will you share with us a little about your story?

“I was addicted to cocaine and so I lost my baby. I was stubborn and thought I wasn’t addicted. Then CASA Linda came into my life, she was such a positive person and I still talk to her. She gave me the boost my baby and I needed. She always stayed positive. It is a wonderful thing, she is still there if I need someone to talk too and I still talk to her every couple of weeks. The help and support she provided me was just great. My child will be three next month and I wouldn’t have her without the help of CASA Linda.”

  1. What is the greatest impact CASA had on the case or in working with your child?

“CASA Linda was just so supportive of me and my baby. She was just that extra person to check on me and make sure I was okay. She was always supportive and positive of me and I think you should give her to all of your hard cases.”

  1. Can you think of a specific example where CASA really helped or made an impact?

“When I had to go to court and I was away from my daughter, CASA Linda wrote these positive notes for me and she told me not to give up. She told me to keep fighting and she was just so positive. From the beginning, she realized I was trying to do what I needed to do to get my daughter back and she gave me a chance. Even when I sometimes gave up on myself she was there. It was great just to have that person in  my corner encouraging me and seeing that I was doing well. It meant a lot.”

4. What did you think about CASA Linda in the beginning?

“In the beginning I just thought of her as one more person who was going to tell me what to do, one more person who was going to put me down, one more person who was going to keep me away from my baby…but actually it turned out as quite the opposite. She gave me more strength to do what I needed to do and gave me the support to get my child back.”

5. Is there something CASA Linda could have done to make things better?

“I wish I had met CASA Linda earlier. I remember the first time she came to see me; she drove for hours. I couldn’t believe it. It would have been nice to have someone so positive right from the start; someone to tell me, if you do the right thing, then I’m in your corner.”

Portion of an interview with a mom who reunited with her daughter after overcoming substance abuse. Names have been changed and details have been altered to protect the family.


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.

When Extended Family Are Caregivers

In 2016, a two and half year old Jack was placed with his great aunt. His mom had mental health and substance abuse issues and she agreed to an identified surrender to her aunt. Everything was on schedule for a smooth adoption until the birth father suddenly re-emerged in the child’s life, which stalled the plans for permanency. CASA Deena met with the birth father, but he didn’t make any meaningful effort to regain custody of his son, so that adoption process continued. CASA Deena has been Jack’s advocate at every step of the way arguing in court that “not only was the aunt’s home safe, it was the only home that Jack had ever known.” Thankfully, the family courts agreed and Jack, his aunt, and CASA Deena are all excited for the adoption ceremony, which will occur in just a few short months.

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According to the brief Adoption and Guardianship for Children in Kinship Foster Care by Generations United and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, “…the foster care system’s reliance on grandparents and other extended family members to care for children is increasing each year,” in the U.S. The brief continues, “…research shows that kinship foster care is generally better for children than non-related foster care. Children in kinship foster care experience fewer placement changes, more stability, better behavioral and mental health outcomes, and are more likely to report that they “always feel loved.” [l] Children raised by kinship foster parents keep their connections to brothers, sisters, extended family and community, and their cultural identities. [2] Due in part to this research, a higher percentage of children are cared for by relatives in foster care than ever before.”

Children in kinship foster care are more likely to find a permanent home than children in non-related foster care. [3] In 2017, about 35% of all children adopted from foster care were adopted by relatives and 10% of children who exited foster care, exited into guardianships. [4]

Additionally, the 2017 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) complied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau indicates that 32% of all children in foster care in the U.S. (140,675 children) were with relatives, representing and increase over the last 10 years of about 9%. [5]

While the reporting on kinship care is positive news for the children in foster care who are living with relatives, it is important to note that AFCARS also reports nearly half (46%) of children and youth in foster care live with non-relatives, 6% reside in group homes and 7% live in institutions. So while the 9% increase in children living with relatives is substantial, many more children are still in need of family members who can take on the role of caregiver.

1 Generations United (2016). Children Thrive in Grandfamilies. Retrieved http://www.grandfamilies.org/PortalsI0/16-Children-Thrive-inGrandfamilies. pdf
2 lbid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 AFCARS Report (2018). Retrieved www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport25.pdfAFCARS


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.

 

May Is Foster Care Awareness Month

May is National Foster Care Month, when we shine a light on the nearly 1,000 children and youth living in foster care in Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the 13,000 children who face the same fate statewide. Every day, CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the network of CASA programs throughout New Jersey recruit, train and support members of our community who advocate on behalf of children and youth living in foster care. We work to ensure that these children have access to resources and services that will improve their outcomes, raise awareness of the obstacles they face and help them overcome those obstacles.

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Sometimes our work feels like an uphill battle, and not every story ends with a positive outcome. But, we are energized and encouraged by the success stories that we do see – the girl who catches up academically with her class even after losing four months of school because she moved three times in the last year, or the teen who receives a scholarship even though only 20% of foster youth even go to college, or the boy who is finally reunited with his parents after a year in care because they received the help that they so desperately needed.

These success stories are possible when caring adults are active in a foster youth’s life. With a supportive team, that includes child welfare professionals, teachers, therapists, foster families, the family courts, and Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, the foster youth can achieve all of their hopes and dreams. This whole team is crucial to ensuring that foster youth reach their fullest potential.

So this May, consider how you could fit into a team helping foster youth succeed. Could you fill a direct service role of CASA volunteer, youth mentor, or foster parent? Would you rather donate goods or services to youth living in care, attend or host a fundraising event that supports foster youth, or, lend a helping-hand to a foster parent or caregiver?

Your role can be big or small. At the very least, consider joining the conversation. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about the obstacles facing foster youth and ways that our community can work together to provide support systems for them. Most importantly, understand that children enter foster care through no fault of their own and the challenges that place children in care affect every social, economic and geographic community. No one is immune, and no one should face these challenges alone.

 


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.

 

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.