CASA Conversations

How CASA Helps Children in Foster Care Prepare for Educational Success

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by Gina Cetta, Program Director

“Back to School.” Three words that can mean so many different things to children. Some are excited. Some are nervous, while others are scared. Some can even feel anger at the thought of returning for another year. Here at Passaic County CASA, we are excited about the opportunity for growth in the children we serve as they return to school! New teachers, new classmates, new things to learn. It can be an exciting time, filled with possibilities.

One of the many goals that Passaic County CASA has for the children we serve is that they do their best in school. CASA volunteers monitor their child’s progress in school through corresponding regularly with teachers and/or counselors, attending school meetings, and attending Back to School Night whenever possible. Teachers have shared that before CASA’s involvement, some children never had someone attend Back to School Night for them.

To help children in Passaic County start off on the right foot, Passaic County CASA provides them with new backpacks and school supplies.  For the past eight years, CASA has held a school supply collection and the Passaic County community is always so generous.

New this year, Passaic County CASA hosted a “School Supply Pop Up Shop” and invited children and their foster or biological parents to come shop for themselves. The children were excited to choose their own backpacks and supplies. Glitter, unicorns, and superheroes were popular themes this year! Passaic County CASA was able to provide backpacks and supplies for more than 400 children in Passaic County for the upcoming school year, in addition to supporting the supply distributions of several partner organizations including the Paterson Task Force, Camp YDP, the Windsor School, and of course the Department of Child Protection and Permanency.

For children who were unable to attend this “Pop-Up Shop,” CASA volunteers spent a busy few weeks in August delivering backpacks full of supplies. CASAs love to share the stories of their delivery of backpacks to their CASA children and how the children’s faces light up with excitement. CASA Melanie is an advocate for 17-year-old Andrew. She had reported difficulty in getting Andrew to speak with her, and when they did talk, he frequently replied with one-word answers. Melanie delivered an Adidas brand backpack and supplies to Andrew. His entire demeanor changed when she gave him the supplies. He was smiling and talkative. He expressed his happiness with getting the backpack he had been wanting and carefully took every item out of the backpack to inspect it. From that moment, Andrew has been much more responsive to his CASA. A new backpack and supplies may not seem like a big deal to some, but to the children we serve, they mean a lot.

As our children head back to school, please consider how you can play a role in their educational success. Volunteer or donate today to give a child a voice this school year.

 

 

Meet the CASA Staff: Ten Questions for Ed Marable

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Name: Ed Marable
Title: Case Supervisor
CASA Employee Since: March 2018

1)       What did you do before you worked at CASA?
I was the Dean of Students at Seton Hall Law School.

2)       Describe your job in five words.
You’ve Got To Be Kidding! (In this job, you’re often confronted by-- or asked to do-- the impossible)

3)       Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?
Completing admin tasks, editing court reports, responding to volunteer questions, visiting kids, and going to court.

4)       What is the best part about working for CASA?
Learning new things and gaining new skills. The reality of this job is very different than I thought it would be. There are lots of opportunities to grow and learn new things.

5)       What is the craziest/most unusual thing you’ve done in the name of serving children in foster care
Since I’ve been at CASA, I consider working carnival games at the Passaic County Fair to be the most unusual thing I’ve done in the name of helping children in foster care.

6)       When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I really didn’t know. My father was a general contractor, and I knew I didn’t want to have a job like his that required manual labor. My mother didn’t work, and my sister was an artist, so I didn’t have many professional role models early on.

7)       What is your go-to comfort food?
Pizza, ideally pepperoni and from Famous Ray’s in Verona.

8)       What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
My sense of humor.

9)       What celebrity have people said you resemble or remind them of?
Denzel Washington.

10)   If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three items would you bring?
A public library, a computer with Wi-Fi, and a gym.

Appreciating the professionals who keep children safe

By Juliana Oelkers, Communications/Marketing Intern

This week, September 9 - 13, is Child Welfare Worker Appreciation Week. It is observed every September across the country as a celebration of the hard work and unwavering dedication of child welfare workers.

While there are many different kinds of child welfare workers, at the root they all share their love for children and dedication to helping those children in need.

During this time, we like to remember exactly why these workers are so important. They help vulnerable and at risk children by responding to cases of abuse, removing children from toxic living situations, talking with families to create plans for supporting the child, or arranging care for children whose families cannot take care of them, among many other things.

This week is all about recognizing the profound impact that child welfare workers have on a child’s life. In 2018, there were almost 500 children in the Passaic County foster care system who relied on child welfare workers daily to help them escape and then recover from abuse or neglect. Without an intervention from child welfare workers, many children would still be suffering.

There are countless child welfare workers right here in the Passaic County area. Besides members of Passaic County CASA, child welfare workers also include caseworkers at the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), the Deputy Attorneys General (DAGs), and Law Guardians.

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Child therapists, guidance counselors, social workers, Family Intervention Services (FIS), and the Passaic County Mobile Crisis Unit all fall under the broad umbrella of child welfare workers as well. You may know a child welfare worker and it is likely that someone you know has been positively impacted by their work in some way.

This week is also an opportunity to hear from child welfare workers and learn why they chose this field. Passaic County CASA Case Supervisor Jill Rebeor explains, “I always wanted to work with children, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. With this job I like being able to ensure the child’s safety and establish relationships with them and their caretakers.” While there are many different kinds of child welfare workers, at the root they all share their love for children and dedication to helping those children in need.

Although Child Welfare Worker Appreciation Week only comes once a year, the fight to help abused and neglected children continues all year round. That is why every day is a great day to appreciate your local Child Welfare Workers for everything they do for the children in your community. Donate, volunteer, or just become more informed about child welfare services in order to help child welfare workers ensure children are safe and happy.

Meet our 2019 Voices for Children Gala Honorees: Karen Walker and the late Charles L. Walker

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Karen and Charles Walker hadn’t even been on their first official date when the topic of foster care came up. Even as young adults, both knew that one day, they would become foster parents and/or adopt.

“There were enough children on this earth who needed a home,” Ms. Walker, a Paterson resident, recently said.

What Karen and Charles didn’t know then was that it would become their collective mission to help children in foster care. Throughout their nearly 49-year marriage, Karen and Charles adopted four children and were foster parents to 26 children, while Charles acted as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate for nine additional children.

This dynamic couple will be honored for their lifelong dedication to children in foster care at Passaic County Court Appointed Special Advocates Voices for Children Gala on Friday Sept. 20, 2019 at Preakness Hills Country Club in Wayne.

In 2012, Karen and Charles were attending a service at Madison Avenue Christian Church when Erica Fischer-Kaslander, Passaic County CASA’s Executive Director, spoke about the program. Charles immediately knew that he needed to get involved. He leaned over to Karen and whispered, "I want to do that."

Charles went on to serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer for five years, until illness prevented him from continuing. Charles passed away at the age of 79 last September.

During his tenure, Gina Cetta, Passaic County CASA’s Program Director, served as his volunteer supervisor.

“Charles was one of the most effective advocates I have ever worked with,” Cetta said. “Everyone listened to him: the children, foster parents, caseworkers, attorneys, and judges.”

The children especially took a liking to Charles’ friendly yet supportive manner.

When one of the children on his case began acting out in class, Charles started going to the school and sitting in the classroom several times a week. The child calmed down when Charles was there; his mere presence brought the child ease.

“He put a smile on everyone's face,” Cetta said.

During the same case, it was recommended that the child be put on medication due to behavioral issues. However, the child’s biological mother would not consent to the treatment. Charles requested a letter from the school, describing the child’s behaviors. He provided the letter to the judge, who ordered the medication for the child. It was Charles’ persistence that gave the child a chance at a solid education.

The issue of foster care was always close to Charles’ heart. His mother died when Charles was 3 years old, and from that moment on, Charles split time between family in New Jersey and family in Virginia. Karen, on the other hand, grew up in Michigan as one of seven children. Years later, her parents would add to the family by adopting three more children.

Karen and Charles met in Paterson. It was the summer of 1968 and Karen was helping with a program called Summer Workshop in Missions, or SWIM, at Paterson’s Northside Chapel. It was there that she met Charles, who was the youth leader at the church.

The two became very good friends that summer, but only friends—partly because SWIM had a no dating rule, and partly because each of them had a significant other.

When autumn rolled around and SWIM ended, Karen opted to stay involved at the church and help with their fall programming. Charles invited Karen to see Nina Simone at a nightclub in New York City later that week. Though the pair had spent a lot of time together over the summer, their hangouts had always been spur of the moment; never planned ahead of time. She recalls asking Charles a very important question.

“Is this a date?” Karen said.

“Hey, if that’s what you want to call it…” Charles answered.

The couple married in 1970 and quickly started the process to become foster and adoptive parents. They focused their efforts on housing unwed mothers and their infants; part of Karen’s role was to teach parenting skills to the mothers.

Karen recalled one evening when she received a call from a child welfare worker who asked if the couple could provide a home for two siblings: a four year old and an eight year old.

Karen called Charles at work to confer about the children, but he had already started his commute home from New York City. This was before cell phones, so all she could do was wait. The caseworker kept calling, and Karen just kept reiterating that she had to speak with her husband first. When Charles finally got home, and Karen told him about the two children, Charles looked around the house and exclaimed, “Well, where are they?!”

“Whatever he was involved in, he did wholeheartedly,” Karen said about Charles.

Cetta echoed Karen’s sentiment about Charles’ dedication.

“He never missed a court hearing or a monthly visit with his CASA children,” Cetta said.

Even when two of his assigned children moved 90 miles away to Pennsylvania, Charles drove out every month to visit with them. Charles also coordinated with the staff at the children’s new school to ensure necessary services were put in place.

Though Karen hasn’t served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, she is a tireless advocate for children in her own right. As a nurse, Karen has always made sure that her foster children received the best possible medical care.

Charles and Karen didn’t let their advocacy stop with their formal roles as foster, adoptive parents and a CASA volunteer. CASA Executive Director Erica Fischer-Kaslander recalls how frequently she’s entered a community meeting or event only to sit down at a table with Karen Walker or have Charles listed as a board member.

“One day Charles showed up at the office and told me he had ideas. So I listened and learned. I still apply those ideas today to our marketing strategy. He regarding his role as an advocate holistically, not only for the child he was assigned to, but for our organization as a whole. Every time he walked into my office I knew there was advice to be shared, and important advice. He has given me some of my soundest management tools I have. Karen and Charles are one of the best gifts the child welfare system could ever have been gifted.”