The end of summer and the start of a new school year is an exciting time for most children. However for some, the beginning of the school year could be the beginning of a troubled journey into the foster care system when signs of abuse and neglect these children have suffered over the summer are noticed by teachers, staff and other parents.
Teachers, like all New Jersey residents, are mandated by law to report child abuse and neglect. Last year, 21% of referrals for child protection concerns to the state child abuse hotline originated from schools.
“Unfortunately, many children who are at risk of being abused or neglected do not interact with many adults from outside of their families when they are not in school. Because of this, it is not uncommon for reports of new suspected abuse or neglect to come to the attention of the system at the beginning of the school year, “said Erica Fischer-Kaslander, Passaic County CASA for Children’s Executive Director.
Many of the youth who are confirmed to have suffered abuse and neglect are then placed under the jurisdiction of the court and reside in an out home placement such as a foster home, group home or residential treatment facility. Often these youth are living at a great distance from the communities, family and friends which are familiar to them. Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers are specially trained community members who speak up for the best interests of youth who, through no fault of their own, end up in the foster care system.
“Separation from everything they know is scary for a child, especially at a time when fellow classmates are eager for the new school year to be underway; these changes at home can be even more stressful on a child,” Fischer-Kaslander explained. “Because of this, we need more people in our communities to speak up and make sure the voices of these children are heard in the process. We want to make sure that they are able to reach a safe and permanent home as quickly as possible so they are able to move forward with their lives and focus on their education and the vital building blocks of success.”
Over 600 youth are in the foster care system each year in Passaic County alone. However, due to limited funding and volunteers, only approximately 30% have the benefit of a CASA volunteer.
“Too many children go through the turmoil of the foster care system without the benefit of an advocate. CASA needs more volunteers in Passaic County and across the state to step up and be a voice for children who need them. That’s the bottom line,” said Fischer-Kaslander.
CASA volunteers are authorized to meet with everyone on the child’s case, including teachers, case workers, counselors and health care providers. This unique access provides the basis for thoughtful, objective recommendations to the Family Court Judge regarding the child's overall well being. Through written court reports at each hearing, CASA volunteers act as the eyes and ears of the Judge.
This school year, CASA is asking community members to consider becoming a CASA volunteer and help children in need find safe permanent homes. CASA staff states that the average volunteer spends between 10-15 hours working on their case, however the hours are completely flexible and they are in control of their schedule. Volunteers are currently being sought to enroll the fall training class, scheduled to begin on October 11. Training will be held one evening a week for 6 weeks.
The first step in becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate is to attend a one hour orientation session held at the CASA office located at 415 Hamburg Tpke in Wayne. CASA advocacy protects the best interest of each child and reduces the state's cost of caring for children in foster care. The schedule of information sessions are held on Tuesday evenings on the following dates: September 20 at 6pm and September 23 at 10 am.
About Passaic County CASA:
Trained CASA Volunteers speak in family court on behalf of abused and neglected children in the foster care system and are dedicated to ensuring these children are placed in safe permanent homes as quickly as possible. In Pasaic County, over 630 children are placed in foster care annually. Last fiscal year, CASA served 215 abused and neglected children with nearly 90 CASA Volunteers and helped place 75 children in permanent homes. For more information about CASA visit www.passaiccountycasa.org