Thursday, October 6, 2011

I am for the Child.

Nearly six years ago I became a mother, and like most parents, having a child changed me in ways both expected and not. Today's post is about how motherhood awoke in me a profound sense of personal responsibility not just for my own child, but for children.

Stories about children going through medical, financial, physical or emotional hardship are difficult to bear for anyone - and perhaps doubly so for parents. When my son was born there was a heart-breaking story headlining about a child who was killed in her home through extreme abuse. There I was, in the hospital, coursing with hormones, overwhelmed with joy and fear and grace, unable to reconcile the fact that there were children who are at risk in the very places they were supposed to be safest: at home with their families. Children who were not going to benefit from the kind of promises I was making to my son. Born with him was a real commitment to helping vulnerable children. I didn't know how, but I knew that I would.

It wasn't long before I found CASA - Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children - an amazing (if difficultly-named) organization that recruits, trains and supervises dedicated volunteers to provide advocacy to children in foster care. While still on maternity leave I reached out to CASA, and I have been with them ever since. First as an advocate, and now as a board member.

CASA's mission is to help fulfil "society's fundamental obligation to make sure that a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for a child's right to be safe, be treated with dignity, and thrive in the security of a loving family." Across the country, tens of thousands of CASA volunteers do this on behalf of nearly 240,000 foster children. But with over 700,000 kids in foster care in the U.S., there is much more to do.

For our part, in Essex County, we are serving around 20% of the foster care population, which at over 2,000 kids, is about quarter of the foster care population of the entire State of New Jersey - even though we have only about 8% of the State's general population. The figures are rough because they change frequently as kids come in and out of the system - but these serve as a general guide. However you cut the data, the need in Essex is tremendous.

I am so proud to be a part of this organization, which has been quietly and carefully providing this service for 25 years, and growing into one of the strongest CASA programs in the country. We match each volunteer with a case selected by a judge for CASA involvement. But the advocacy doesn't stop there, we are also building a mentoring program for the kids aging out of the system, and training family search & connect research volunteers, who are finding family members for kids where none were previously thought to have existed. The success stories with this program in Essex alone are astonishing.

As a board, we focus constantly on how to make sure that in our community, every child who cannot live safely in their home has a CASA who will help assure their safe passage out of foster care. As a mom, I always wish I could do even more - not just for the kids, but for their parents too.

If you learned something powerful about CASA through this post, will you help us spread the word?

If you'd like to support us, or become an advocate in Essex County please visit our website or New Jersey CASA and everywhere else at National CASA.

To see our moving new campaign PSA, visit our youtube channel here.

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