Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is the only court-authorized advocacy program for children and youth in foster care in Burlington and Mercer Counties. We provide the following programs and services for children in the foster care system.
Children who are victims of abuse, neglect and abandonment are assigned to professionally trained volunteers for advocacy in the Family Court system. CASA volunteers make recommendations to the court for critical community resources and services to improve a child’s stability and outcomes. Volunteers also ensure that each child is in a safe, nurturing, and permanent home as soon as possible. CASA volunteers are generally assigned to one case at a time, or to a specific child or sibling group. Once assigned to cases, the CASA volunteers are supervised by staff Advocate Supervisors throughout the life cycle of each case.
Volunteer Recruitment and Training
The process to become a CASA volunteer advocate includes recruitment, orientation sessions, interviews, background checks, 36 hours of combined online and classroom training, swearing-in ceremonies presided over by the Family Court Judges, and case assignment. The pre-service training curriculum
includes the following topics: the role of the volunteer, the child welfare system, needs and development of children, trauma, mental health, poverty, professional communication, cultural competence, educational needs, and permanency. Additional In-Service training is provided for our volunteers throughout the year.
Nationally, only 50 percent of foster children graduate from high school by 18 compared to 82% of typical children. College graduation rates are even lower with only 3% of youth in foster care graduating with a college degree. All CASA volunteers are trained in the Educational Advocacy curriculum created by CASA of NJ, the Special Education and Child Advocacy Clinics at Rutgers School of Law, Advocates for Children of NJ and NJ Department of Children and Families. Some CASA volunteers receive an additional appointment by the Court that provides them with the ability to be the educational decision makers and sign the child’s IEP. CASA volunteers serve as the link between many systems for foster youth. Advocates have the ability to maintain school stability for children who often lag behind their peers because they move homes and schools and lack continuity of schooling. A CASA advocate can interrupt this cycle of absenteeism that leads to failure by frequently speaking with teachers and school staff to understand the child’s educational needs.
Several studies show that without a strong connection with a caring adult (like our advocates), older youth are often left vulnerable to a host of adverse situations. Females are a particular concern as traffickers are known to target youth in foster care. Compared to other youth in the US, those who age out of foster care are more likely to not have completed high school or received a GED, they often suffer from mental health issues, many are unemployed and live in poverty, and nearly 40% become homeless. Their rates of arrest, health problems, and welfare dependency are far higher than those of the population as a whole The Fostering Futures Program, developed by National CASA, recognizes the plight of older youth who leave the child welfare system with seriously inadequate support systems or plans in place. Fostering Futures provides a framework for CASA volunteers to guide these older youth (14-21) through intensive goal setting and planning emancipation. Through Fostering Futures, CASA volunteers identify support systems as well as gaps that youth need to address in order to be successful when they leave the child welfare system. The program trains advocates to guide youth in five major goal areas: Independent Living Skills, Support Systems, Education, Vocational and Employment Skills and Housing.
Darkness to Light
Child sexual abuse is always a difficult topic to think and learn about. However, to prevent abuse, we have to break through the stigma and shame, and talk about how the sexual abuse of children happens. It’s the only way we will be able to stop what is arguably the number one health crisis that children face today.
Darkness to Light understands that learning the facts about childhood sexual abuse helps prevent it. Talking about it helps prevent it. Getting involved helps prevent it. The truth is, if childhood sexual abuse can be prevented, it can be stopped.
Adult education is key to preventing child sexual abuse. 1 out of 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
Research shows that people who are sexually violated as children are far more likely to experience psychological problems often lasting into adulthood, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, suicide, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, school dropout and relationship problems.
The Darkness to Light “Stewards of Children” training is available through CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties.
This training is valuable to anyone who works with or knows children. This training is open to members of the community and if you are interested in having this training at your location, please contact Laura Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Director of Training and Evaluation to set up a training just for your organization or check the website for updates for when it will be held at one of our local offices.
Aging Out Seminar
CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties currently offers one annual conference that focuses on the 14-21 population of youth aging out of the child welfare system. CASA collaborates with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Superior Court, Family Division, Mercer County Children in Court, Burlington County Children in Court, and Rutgers University Child Advocacy Clinic to offer a program that familiarizes youth with resources and services to establish them on a path toward a healthy, productive life. The 2017 conference covered such topics as finding housing, legal issues, post-secondary planning, employment skills and healthy relationships.