Our speaker was Tracey Heisler who is the Executive Director of CASA SHaW. The organization provides volunteer court-appointed special advocates (CASA) for abused and neglected children in Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties who need a voice in the NJ Family Court system.
The number one key to success in life is for a child to have a relationship with at least one caring adult. This could be a parent, grandparent, coach, or teacher for example. Many children relegated to foster care do not have such a relationship. Each child is assigned one specific CASA that will stay with their case until permanency is achieved when the child moves back with their family, is placed in a safe and loving home, or ages out of the system. The CASA’s relationship with the child is not on a personal level such as a Big Brother/Big Sister program. They visit at least once a month, but they don’t socialize. They check in regularly and give the child a special place to talk.
The CASA gathers information that will be useful to the Judge that is handling the case. They speak with school personnel, guidance counsellors, caseworkers, therapists, and doctors. The report they prepare for the court includes psychological and medical assessments. The other agents in the child’s life may change. Caseworkers come and go. Children may even change homes, but the CASA remains constant. The CASA becomes a stable rock in the child’s life. The goal is to stabilize the life of the child, end the abuse, and put them in a place where they can thrive.
Why is CASA so important? Each year approximately 400 children from Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren counties are thrust into the New Jersey Family Court system through no fault of their own. Every 35 seconds a child is abused or neglected. Many of these children end up in our foster care system. 50% of children in foster care do not graduate high school or get a GED. 12% of children in foster care end up becoming homeless. 59% of abused and neglected children in Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties are served by CASA SHaW. 96.5% of children served by CASA SHaW do not return to foster care. More information about the impact of adverse childhood experiences can be found at acestoohigh.com.