SUMMIT, NJ - Summit resident Mary Ellen Lawrence was among 16 community members sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) by Union County Superior Court Judge James Hely. The advocates have volunteered to serve as extra eyes and ears for Family Court judges on cases involving Union County’s abused, neglected or abandoned children now placed in foster care.

Each completed a 30-hour training program that now incorporates an online learning component for scheduling flexibility. After the new advocates took their oath and received a commemorative CASA pin and certificate, they gathered with staff and board members for a celebratory luncheon, during which they were matched to their new case.

The newest class of advocates range in age from 21 to 81; are parents and non-parents; recent retirees and students; and careers include business professionals, a teacher, nurse, attorney and professor; as well as homemakers. Languages spoken include Spanish, Chinese, Ukrainian and German. Most have no prior knowledge of the foster system, and at least two of the volunteers are immigrants.

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CASA volunteers have court-ordered access to all parties in a child’s life, including foster parents, doctors, caseworkers, therapists and teachers, and incorporate into court reports findings from these contacts as well as time spent with the youth. Volunteers advocate both in the community and court to ensure their youth’s needs are met and their time in care is as short as possible. There are 600 Union County children currently in foster care and CASA of Union County serves approximately one-third; its mission is to provide an advocate for every foster child that needs one.

For details on future trainings, contact Courtney at 908-527-7045 or cgreen@casaofunioncounty.org.