ELIZABETH, NJ - Shortly before Covid-19 emerged, took hold 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. It 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.
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.
Among the new advocates are Elizabeth’s Jade McEvoy and Elizabeth Teresa Pupo. McEvoy said, “I have come to realize it is never a child’s duty to take on adult responsibilities but only to enjoy the innocence they are entitled to. As an advocate, I’m truly hopeful about providing the support necessary for them to have a beautiful outlook on life.” Pupo added, “I am committed to making a positive difference in someone’s life, one day at a time.”
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.
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, nonparents 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. Contact Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.