An organization that provided assistance to 205 foster children in Monmouth County during 2018 wants to ensure that youngsters in foster care can continue to be represented.
Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Monmouth County (CASA) will hold its annual Spring Garden Gala at the Hollywood Golf Club, Deal, from 7-11:30 p.m. on April 6. Reservation information may be found at casaofmonmouth.org
According to its website, CASA “is a nonprofit charitable organization with a mission to make a difference by training and supporting volunteers to become advocates for children whose families have been cited for abuse and neglect. CASA for Children of Monmouth County is part of an association of CASA organizations nationwide.”
In an interview on Feb. 28, Executive Director Cindi Van Brunt said funds raised during the 14th annual gala will help to support the organization’s effort to defend the well-being of children as they move through foster care and into permanent homes.
Foster care is a temporary arrangement in which adults provide for the care of a child or children whose birth parent is unable to care for them, according to adopt.org.
“Our biggest challenge is that people don’t know who we are,” Van Brunt said. “One of the reasons is because it is hard for us to share stories and photos of (foster children) because of confidentiality (agreements).
“… It’s harder for us as an organization that works with kids compared to other organizations that work with kids who share great photos of kids doing wonderful things. Children don’t want to be identified as foster children.
“(The children) don’t want to be in school and all their friends know they had to be removed from their homes because it wasn’t safe for them to live there,” Van Brunt said.
Van Brunt said trained CASA volunteers make sure the cases of children in foster care are pursued and do not languish in the child welfare system. She said the volunteers make sure children in foster care are not exposed to abuse or neglect. The volunteers help foster children find safe, permanent homes.
“Our goal is to prevent further exposure of abuse and violence and to improve their health and well-being in general,” Van Brunt said. “Volunteers can provide undivided time and attention that professionals (i.e., lawyers) can’t provide because they have so many cases at a time.”
There are 110 volunteers who represent children in foster care in Monmouth County. Out of 589 children in the county who were placed in foster care in 2018, Van Brunt said 205 were represented by CASA volunteers.
“Our goal is to serve every child in care in Monmouth County and to expand our program so all children who need a (volunteer) will have one,” Van Brunt said. “The CASA volunteer advocates for the best interest of the child. (Volunteers) advocate for what that child needs now. The child will have an (attorney) assigned to them, who advocates for what the child wants.
“… We are an independent voice. We just look a child and we make biased, common sense recommendations based on what the child needs right now. A judge then has another set of eyes on the case,” she said.
Van Brunt shared a success story between a CASA volunteer, Ellen, and the foster child she represented, Charles. She said Charles was removed from his home in the second grade because his mother had a “diminished mental capacity” and her boyfriend was abusive to the child, she said.
Van Brunt said teachers observed Charles as being disruptive. She said he was placed in special education classes after undergoing an evaluation.
“(Charles) would go in and out of foster care,” Van Brunt said. “Ellen was assigned when Charles was in high school … She starts speaking with him. She knows he is in special education classes. As she gets to know him, she notices that (special education classes) are not a good fit for him.”
Van Brunt said Ellen, as a CASA volunteer, was allowed access to Charles’ educational records. Charles was re-evaluated and eventually enrolled in advanced placement courses in high school. Later, he was awarded a scholarship to pursue higher education.
Van Brunt said Charles did not plan on going to college. She said Charles became confident when he was placed in the appropriate classes and said “he thanks Ellen for that.”