In an ideal world, every child would come to school feeling healthy, happy, and ready to learn. But of course that ideal doesn’t always match reality. Just ask Sue Napolitano, or any of the countless other school nurses on the frontlines of student care.
Sue and other school nurses will tell you about kids who come to school hungry because they haven’t eaten, anxious about turmoil at home, or wearing dirty clothes. School nurses confront far more than scraped knees and fevers; they care for the whole child so he or she can thrive in school.
In the same way, the ideal child welfare system would provide children with everything they need to heal and recover after experiencing abuse or neglect. It would provide a safe and nurturing place for children to go while their parents complete their own recoveries, or while alternative options are considered. Unfortunately this ideal doesn’t always match reality either.
Perhaps this parallel is what made becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate so natural for Sue Napolitano. It takes a compassionate, nurturing person to succeed in both roles. And of course, a deep concern for the welfare of children and a desire to do something about it.
While working as a school nurse in the Paterson Public School District, Sue knew some of the children she cared for were in foster care. One student’s CASA came to see her. Sue had been considering becoming a foster parent, but she attend a CASA Information Session and decided to take that path instead. When her children left for college a few years later the timing felt right to start CASA training, and Sue was sworn in in March 2017.
The first case Sue was assigned was that of a boy in second grade. As she got to know him, Sue was startled to realize that he couldn’t read, a fact that had been overlooked by his prior teachers. Thanks to her familiarity with the school system, Sue knew how to get him the extra help he needed. He is now progressing academically and on-track to read at grade level.
Sue’s second case was that of a sixteen year old girl, who she describes as “completely alone in the world.” Since taking the case, Sue has become her go-to adult, the person she turns to on a near-daily basis for guidance. Sue helped her get into a job training program, an achievement initially thwarted by school records that had gone missing during the girl’s many school transfers. Again, Sue’s educational knowledge proved invaluable as she was able to track the records down and have them sent to the necessary office for her to begin the job training program.
While humble about her own contributions, Sue says she loves being a CASA. “You get as much back as you put in,” she explains. She encourages her school colleagues to consider becoming one as well. “Educators are already attuned to what children need-- mentally, physically, emotionally, and educationally.” We hope that they are listening, because with an imperfect child welfare system such as the one we have, CASAs like Sue are the best hope for the future.