Union County Superior Court Judge James Hely has administered oaths to 16 community members — among them Shiow-ling Chen, Dina Glasofer, Dana Nolan and Cindy Benn of Westfield — who stepped up to volunteer 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.

The new child advocates completed 30 hours in a new, flexible training option that comprises fewer in-person sessions than the traditional session, but 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.

Volunteers with varied backgrounds make successful advocates and this class is no exception: 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. To inquire about other ways to support CASA of Union County, contact Executive Director Marla Higginbotham at 908-527-7041 or marlah@casaofunioncounty.org.

Pictured: New CASA volunteers are April-Michelle Thomas of Carteret; Lisa LaGreca of Clark; Laura La Fronz, Joanne Truncali and Bohdan Lukaschewsky of Cranford; Jana Fallon of Fanwood; Lucia Menyou Rocha of Linden; Stephanie Vicuna-Baldeon of Plainfield; Carmen Ayala and Linda Jenkins-Davis of Scotch Plains; Mary Ellen Lawrence of Summit; and Cindy Benn, Shiow-ling Chen, Dina Glasofer and Dana Nolan of Westfield. Not shown is Quetzali Sevillano of Elizabeth.