Two Brothers Adopted After Three-Year Wait

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After waiting three years for this day to arrive, brothers Toby and Jake, 13 and 11, will be adopted this month by their loving grandmother. The boys grew up living with their mother, grandmother, and uncles. However, their mother had a long history of drug abuse, and something very traumatic happened while the boys and their family members were asleep one night. Their mother was murdered in their home. This is when Toby and Jake were taken into the custody of the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, but they were fortunate to continue living with their grandmother and uncles.

“I think having their family close by helped a lot in grieving process,” said the boys’ CASA volunteer, Jim, who was assigned to their case shortly after their mother’s death. “They are very laid back. At least they had a little support group around them. They never indicated to me that they were ever scared.”

Soon after, their grandmother moved the family to a new home in a safer neighborhood. Here, the boys made new friends and spent their summer days swimming.

“I think they look at her like their mother,” Jim said of the boys’ grandmother. “She does everything for them and provides a positive living environment. She always seems invested in their schoolwork and how they’re doing.”

Jim observed how well the boys were doing in their grandmother’s care, and he advocated that she adopt them.

He said the boys are excited to finally get adopted. “They are looking forward to having the case come to an end,” he said, mentioning that some of their case workers have changed over the years. Additionally, the boys’ father and mother’s ex boyfriend also prolonged the adoption process.

“[Court] was trying to give the boys’ father and the mother’s ex boyfriend many opportunities to become guardians, but they were not following through; they were either disinterested or in jail,” Jim said.

This upset the boys’ grandmother because she was the one constant in their lives, and she took care of them every day. She has spent the past year waiting for the adoption to be finalized.

“For them, adoption is long overdue,” Jim said. “I’m happy for them. Compared to a lot of things I hear about foster children who moved around a lot, I think the kids are very lucky. It’s very unfortunate they lost their mother, but living with their grandmother helped them relax. They weren’t scared that they were going to get removed from the grandmother’s home and placed somewhere else.”

During Jim’s most recent visit, the grandmother could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

She was holding an envelope in her hand and said to Jim, “I believe this is the last thing I have to fill out and hand in. After this, everything comes to a close.”

Toby and Jake are two out of 33 children from Atlantic and Cape May Counties who were adopted this month.

Jim is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

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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

 

Magical Monday July 29 in Ocean City, N.J.

Magical Monday is just a couple weeks away! Get your unlimited ride wristband for $20 at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier the day of the event: July 29, 1-4 p.m. This event benefits CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

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Being the Voice for an Infant Living in Foster Care

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When CASA Volunteer Teresa first read David’s case file more than two years ago, she was horrified. David was sexually abused by his mother as an infant, and the Division removed him from her care when he was just six months old. Though shocked, Teresa did not hesitate to take on the case in her new role as a CASA.

“Right away, I thought, someone has to save this kid so he didn’t end up back there. If [sexual abuse] is already starting at that young of an age, I could only imagine how much worse it could get,” Teresa said. “I couldn’t even imagine someone doing that to their own child, especially at that age.”

In addition to the abuse by David’s mother, the mother’s boyfriend was previously charged with receiving child pornography, for which he was incarcerated, and he had received probation for having alcohol in the presence of an underage girl. He was perpetuating the mother’s sexual abuse toward David.

In the United States, the children most likely to be abused or neglected are younger than 18-months-old, and 80% of children who die from abuse are younger than four-years-old.

Teresa understands how important it is to advocate for foster children in this age group.

“They can’t speak for themselves; most of them are just learning to speak, and they don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong,” she explained. “They just want someone to love them and pay attention to them. If their parents aren’t the right ones for them, they may not know that. They need someone to be their voice.”

When David was removed from his mother’s home, he was placed in foster care with a very nice woman, and he stayed with her for more than two years. During that time, Teresa made sure that David was receiving the appropriate care at his foster home and that he had access to services that would ensure his continued safety and growth.

Teresa was always very happy with the foster mother; she took good care of David and shared Teresa’s understanding of advocacy, and the need to keep David healthy. Once David was in his foster mother’s care for a year, Teresa advocated to the court that he continue living there until permanency was established.

“From the beginning, if she saw anything, she would always fight for what he needed, medical-wise,” Teresa explained of the foster mother. “[David] had ear infections often, so his speech was delayed because it was affecting his hearing. So she pushed to get him to a specialist. She continued to push for his best interest in helping him reach his full potential.” Teresa also supported David by recommending these services through her reports to the court.

David was flourishing in his foster home. He was reaching his developmental milestones on time, he appeared happy during CASA visits, and he did well in daycare while his foster mother was at work.

“Every time I would go visit, David was always very affectionate [with his foster mother] and would go over and hug her and kiss her. You could tell from very early on that there was a bond,” Teresa said.

David’s foster mother had been very interested in adopting him for a long time, and Teresa felt that she would be a great fit for David. David’s mother has been in jail during his entire stay in foster care, and she signed paperwork to relinquish her parental rights. When potential placements with David’s grandparents and father were ruled out by the Division, David was finally able to be adopted by his foster mother.

Teresa was assigned to this case in early 2011, and David’s adoption took place just last month. We are so glad David had a dedicated CASA like Teresa and that he now has a forever family!

Teresa is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

CASA Volunteer and Child Bond Over Baseball

Brian was turning eight when he was removed from his home. His sister was born with opiates in her system, and the Division placed both children in foster care the day after she was born.

It was hard growing up with a dad and mom who suffered from drug addictions. Brian didn’t have what most people would call a “normal” childhood. He often times took care of himself, his father preferring his next high over any interactions with him.

When Brian met his CASA volunteer, Warren Iredell, he took a liking to him very quickly.

“I told him I will always be there for him,” Warren said when he first met Brian. “He’s a super little boy, a lot of fun, very polite, but he misses his mother tremendously.”

On their first meeting, Warren got to know him. What stood out is that Brian mentioned he liked baseball.

“Maybe I’ll bring a glove and we can have a catch,” Warren told him. And he stuck to his word.

When Warren showed up next week, Brian’s resource parent said, “Brian has been waiting for you to come; he’s so excited!”

“I brought a glove for him and me. I went to KMart and picked up one for his size,” Warren said. “After a while, I decided, well, that’s good but maybe I’ll pick up a wiffle ball and bat.”

Because Brian’s father did not play an active role in his life, Warren said Brian did not understand how to correctly throw a ball. So the two of them practiced during their visits, and Brian has learned a lot.

“He loves it; he’s doing real well,” Warren said. “We have a contest with each other. I try to strike him out and he tries to strike me out.”

Warren said it is extremely important for boys to have a male role model. He is the father of six children and has 11 grandchildren, and he said he realizes how important it is to have someone to look up to.

“You can see it with Brian; he now hugs me when I arrive and he hugs me when I leave,” Warren said. “You can see the effect you have on a young boy, just being there for him, and just playing.”

Warren  enjoyed spending time with the child so much that he decided to visit him once a week instead of once every two weeks. In addition to playing baseball together, Warren has also helped Brian with his math and reading homework.

“He was very happy I could help him. He read to me one time… I sat and listened and I helped him with some of the words he had difficulty with,” Warren said.

Sadly, something Brian struggles with is guilt. Brian’s counselor informed Warren that he feels at fault for being taken away from his mother because he witnessed her using drugs.

“I do talk to him and try and tell him that things can get better, but he has to be patient,” Warren said. He told him, “If you need something, I’m there.”

Currently, Brian’s aunt is very interested in caring for him and his sister, so they have been spending weekends there to get used to the new environment.

Warren says Brian likes it there, however, structure is not something the child is acclimated to.

“He had no structure in his life at all, staying up all night long, coming and going whenever he pleased,” Warren explained of Brian’s childhood with his parents. Now that Brian has been in the resource home, where there are rules, “He kind of complains because he has to go to bed at nine o’clock. His aunt also has rules and structure, so this is what he was lacking in his younger years.”

Because their aunt lives out of state, she made a commitment to the Division that she will bring the siblings back home every other weekend so they can spend time with their mother. Their father is currently in jail and has been sentenced to three more years.

Despite all of the adversity he experienced, Brian maintains a positive attitude toward school, and he hopes to join a little league team one day.

“I hope I am making a difference and helping in some small way,” Warren said, adding that he is happy the children now have a relative in their lives who can take care of them.

With the help of CASA volunteer Sindy Finkelson, an Older Foster Youth Overcomes Obstacles and Excels in College

Growing up, Katie never knew her father. Her mother struggled with substance abuse, and her step father—who adopted Katie at age three—passed away when she was in elementary school. Many days, Katie would miss high school because her mother was not there to drive her, and sometimes her mother would disappear without leaving any food or money. Katie began to feel unsafe at home because of her mother’s drug and alcohol use.

Katie was 15 when she was taken into custody by the Division, where she then went through two foster home placements and a youth shelter.

Katie’s CASA volunteer, Sindy Finkelson, said being placed in the shelter was a turning point in Katie’s life.

“We were able to get her out of the shelter and place her in a really healthy foster home,” Sindy said, referring to her CASA case supervisor and a Division case worker. “Had CASA not been involved at that point, I don’t know what would have happened. She was in a bad place.”

After this, Sindy said Katie did a major turnaround. Katie was placed with a wonderful new foster family. Sindy said the foster mother, who is a teacher, has been amazing and has given Katie direction.

Now Katie is 18 and finishing up her freshman year of college. She is there on a full scholarship and is studying psychology. Katie feels a bit homesick, especially since many of the students go home on weekends. However, she is excelling academically and made the Dean’s list last semester. She and Sindy still keep in touch during the semester, and sometimes Sindy will proof read Katie’s college essays if need be. Sindy attributes much of Katie’s success to her foster mother, who Katie depends on a lot.

Many times, youth who are about to age out of foster care struggle to get their lives together at such a young age. In fact, only six percent finish a two or four-year degree after aging out, even though 70% of these youth would like to attend college.

“I think she is an exception to the rule,” Sindy said about Katie. “She has chosen a path of success. She does not want to be like her mom and in the system. She saw the life raft, and she grabbed on and she is going to be successful.”

Sindy said that she and Katie bonded right away and that this was very important. She commends CASA’s thorough volunteer training on maintaining professional relationships and objectivity.

“We are trained in CASA to be someone that they can trust… [Katie] knew that when she called me, I would be there for her. I always took her call, dropped what I was doing, and she knew that it was a priority for me. She didn’t abuse it,” Sindy said. “CASA teaches their advocates to really let children know that they can trust someone. That relationship is important in getting her through this.”

They have such a great CASA relationship that Sindy was invited to attend Katie’s high school graduation last year. Over the holidays, Sindy was touched when she received a beautiful thank you card from Katie, who wrote, “Many people have come into and out of my life, but I always knew that I could trust you.”

“[Katie] is an incredibly thoughtful, resilient, and very ambitious young woman. She has really fought to overcome many obstacles… and she knows what she wants to do. She’s really determined to break the cycle,” Sindy said, adding that Katie is also interested in helping other teenagers who are going through similar obstacles in life.

“She’s going to make it.”

Second Annual Kids Fit Final Mile!

More than 120 children participated in this year’s Kids Fit Final Mile, which is part of the Atlantic City Marathon. The event benefits CASA, and we are grateful to all of our participants, as well as the mascots who competed in the Mascot Fun Run. A big thank you also goes out to Texas Avenue School in Atlantic City, who had so many of their awesome students run!

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Texas Avenue