CRANFORD - Shortly before Covid-19 emerged and shelter-in-place orders were ordered, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County trained 18 volunteers to serve as child advocates for youth removed from home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

Among the new advocates are Cranford’s Marty and Susan Shulman, and Fernando Porras. The Shulmans chose to complete training together. While gathered inside a courtroom at Union County’s Family Courthouse, class members simultaneously raised their right hand as Judge Thomas K. Isenhour administered their oath before thanking them for committing to our community’s vulnerable youth and emphasizing the value of volunteerism.

“As soon as I attended a CASA information session, I realized this volunteer opportunity is special. As I’ve met all the wonderful people who give their time and hearts to change the lives of children, I’m even more inspired for this journey. It’s important, serious, and I am certain will prove worthwhile,” said Susan Shulman.

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“I spent my professional life in academia; teaching, advising, and mentoring undergraduate students. Now, in retirement, I’d like to work one-to-one to support and advocate for a child in foster care. I predict this will be equally rewarding and fulfilling," added Marty Shulman.

After a final step of court observation, advocates are assigned to foster youth by court order, which provides access to the youth, foster parents, doctors, caseworkers, therapists and teachers to determine outstanding needs or concerns. Advocates regularly report and make recommendations to the judge. CASA is the only organization serving as extra eyes and ears for family law judges in an effort to protect best interests of youth in foster care.

Volunteers with varied backgrounds make successful advocates and this class, ranging from their 20s to 70s, is no exception. Each brings diverse experiences, including having been a foster youth themselves, immigrants, non-parents and parents, retirees, homemakers, full- and part-time employees. Professional backgrounds include education, business owners, law and academia. Most had no prior knowledge of the foster system.

There are approximately 500 Union County youth from birth to age 21 in foster care, and more than 200 still need a CASA volunteer. Is that you? Contact Courtney at cgreen@casaofunioncounty.org to learn more.