ROSELLE, 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 Roselle’s Towanna Garba and Angela Williams. “One factor solidifying my decision to become a CASA volunteer,” said Williams, “is lack of knowledge in the community about families involved with the child welfare system. In speaking with friends, family and colleagues, I realized how much we don’t know. I hope to create a better situation for our youth while gaining more insight and sharing that with others.”

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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 cgreen@casaofunioncounty.org to learn more.