ELIZABETH, NJ — New Providence resident Janet Smith is among the newest class of Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers tasked with serving as extra eyes and ears for family law judges on cases of Union County youth removed from home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment and now living in foster homes or residential facilities.

“I’ve been involved in various aspects of community service through the years but full-time work and parenting restricted my ability to get more involved. With more time now, I’m looking forward to working with the dedicated CASA staff and other volunteers to help determine the best environment where children will feel the safety and love they all deserve. If I can make a difference for just one child, becoming a CASA will have been the right choice for me!” said Smith.

After completion of approximately 30 hours’ training with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County, she and classmates assembled at the Union County Family Courthouse to take their oath as advocates and judicial volunteers from Superior Court Judges Marc Brown and Richard Wischusen.

Sign Up for New Providence Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The new advocate class ranges from ages 28 to 61, are both parents and nonparents, and lines of work that include education, legal, real estate pharmaceuticals and freelancing. Most had no prior knowledge of the foster system. Smith’s classmates include David Bernot and Andrea Dudley, both of Union, Rich Leahey of Cranford, Ona Ndupu of Hillside, Vicki Racelis of Rahway and Susan Ruszala of Scotch Plains.

After three hours’ court observation to see seasoned CASA volunteers in action, each of the advocates will meet their assigned foster youth. With court-ordered access to foster parents, doctors, caseworkers, therapists and teachers, CASA volunteers incorporate their findings into court reports and work to ensure each youth’s needs are met and best interests protected. They are a constant during chaos and work to ensure the youth’s trauma is not exacerbated in care.

There are approximately 500 Union County youth from birth to age 21 in foster care, and more than 200 still need their very own CASA volunteer, someone in their corner. Is that you? For details on upcoming trainings, contact Courtney at 908-293-8136 or cgreen@casaofunioncounty.org.

Pictured after the swearing in are Judges Marc Brown, left, and Richard Wischusen, right, with newly sworn advocates for Union County foster youth. They are, from left, Rich Leahey, Cranford; Andrea Dudley, Union; David Bernot, Union; Ona Ndupu, Hillside; Susan Ruszala, Scotch Plains; Vicki Racelis, Rahway; and Janet Smith, New Providence.