CRANFORD - Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County has welcomed five new child advocates to its team, including Melissa Andrade of Cranford. The newly trained volunteers were sworn in just before Thanksgiving by Judge James Hely via Zoom.

According to the release, Andrade, her mother Janet Bou of Linden, and fellow classmates Jen Shushanksy of Chatham and Laura Whittaker and Susan Spiegel of Westfield will be matched to one or more of Union County’s most vulnerable youth removed from home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

"I became a CASA volunteer for the endless children who end up in foster care, who need someone on their team reminding them how special and loved they truly are; for those children to have hope, to have a voice, and to have someone they can rely on," said Andrade.

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Considered extra eyes and ears for family law judges, the advocates will be assigned to their youth by court order, which grants access not only to the youth but to their foster parents, doctor, attorney, caseworker, therapist and teachers. Advocates regularly visit youth and connect with the case stakeholders to determine any outstanding needs or concerns, then report to the court and make recommendations. Successful advocates come from all walks of life and have varied backgrounds. This class is no exception. New advocates include parents, non-parents and even a mother-daughter duo. Professional backgrounds include media, nursing, real estate and education.

There are approximately 400 Union County youth from birth to age 21 living in foster care, and each deserve the consistency of a caring, responsible adult in their corner.

For details on how to secure a seat in the next training, which kicks off in January, contact Abby at agallego@casaofunioncounty.org.