Updates from National, State, County and Local Programs.
Spring Rollout for Flex Learning Program
Submitted by Lori Heredia, CASA Training Specialist
Flex Learning is rolling out in a big way for our state this spring. Staff and volunteers in Pima, Maricopa, and Yuma counties will be given the five-week 'blended' pre-service training beginning in March. Once trained, these counties will be able to facilitate the in-person portion to their volunteers on site.
Flex Learning is an alternative to the traditional 30-hour training track that incorporates Getting Started, the two-day state Academy, and Beyond the Basics. With Flex Learning, cohorts of up to 15 participants are given in-person training in their home county for three hours weekly and engage in online learning for three hours weekly for five weeks (a 'blended' training approach). The online portion is monitored and facilitated by CASA of Arizona to meet statutory pre-service training requirements.
With Flex Learning, costs are minimized for both the state and the counties. Since the training is provided entirely in their home county, travel costs are eliminated for the county and for the state. In addition, all materials are available in electronic form, eliminating printing costs. And, access to the learning management system through National CASA is very affordable: $75 for cohorts of up to 15 participants.
Although Flex Learning requires a five-week commitment from new volunteers and staff, feedback from the pilot project last year includes that the volunteers are more knowledgeable and better prepared for their first CASA assignment than when they follow the traditional training track.
Our 2014 rollout of Flex Learning is something we encourage every interested county to take advantage of. In the words of Dennis O'Rourke, CASA of Yuma County coordinator, "Flex Learning rocks!"
In other training news, volunteers trained in the last quarter include 10 volunteers in October, 38 new volunteers in November, 13 volunteers in December, and 55 volunteers in January. For March and July of 2014, we have reserved conference room 101 in order to encourage recruiting by removing barriers to timely training of new CASAs.
For more information, contact Lori Heredia at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 452-3173.
Statewide Success for National Adoption Day
During the month of November, several counties organized and participated in National Adoption Day celebrations throughout the state. Celebrations ranged from small, private court proceedings, to full day events including DJs, entertainment, and games. We are proud to share that over 400 Arizona children joined their forever families this past National Adoption Day, and we look forward to seeing this inspiring tradition continue for years to come. Congratulations to all who participated in this special celebration. (Pictured left: The Brady family poses with Presiding Judge Samuel Vederman of La Paz County after finalizing their daughter's adoption.)
Notes from National CASA
National CASA Advocacy and Training Grant Application for 2014 Now Available
The National CASA Association is authorized to distribute funds through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to state CASA/GAL organizations, state networks and local CASA/GAL programs. Grant funds are for the purpose of increasing the number of abused and neglected children assigned a CASA volunteer or volunteer guardian ad litem (GAL) to advocate for their best interests; increasing the number of older youth served by volunteers trained in the Fostering Futures curriculum and increasing the number of youth served with an evidence based practice.
All funds are contingent on appropriation by the US Congress and subsequent approval by OJJDP.
National CASA state organizations, state networks and local programs that are paid members of the National CASA Association are eligible to apply for funding in our this youth advocacy and training grant cycle. National CASA will be awarding approximately $4.05 million over two years in federal funding through these grants.
Please go to the grants section of the National CASA website for an application and instructions. You will need to login with your program login and password to download the forms. Completed applications are due by February 14th.
Spotlight on amazing Staff, Volunteers and Supporters.
Employee Spotlight: Mary Shamowski
If there is one thing that is clear about Mary Shamowski
, it is her commitment to children.
Before joining the CASA program, Mary worked as an Estimator/Planner for Pacific Forge in California. It was during this time that Mary started her family. After experience with bad child care providers, she realized that nothing mattered more than being home with her children. Mary says she was fortunate to be able to stay home with them during this time, and when her youngest began kindergarten, she started to look for part time work. She happened to discover the Support Staff position with CASA of Mohave County and immediately knew it was for her.
Twelve years later, Mary remains a longstanding member of the CASA team, now as a Program Coordinator in Mohave County. In her current role, she is responsible for recruiting new volunteers, training and supporting active volunteers, and covering dependency cases that do not have CASA volunteers assigned to them.
Having spent a considerable amount of time working in the child welfare system with CASA, Mary possesses a keen insight as to why the work of her advocates is so critical.
"I think in general that the public has a false sense of 'everything is ok now that the child is in care', and that their troubles are over," she says. "They don't realize what these children can potentially face....over crowded foster homes, risk of abuse, being moved from one school to another, different people coming in and out of their life, and being away from everything they've ever known."
It is through this compassion and empathy that Mary manages her team of CASA volunteers, the facet of her job that she says she finds most enjoyable. "The CASA Advocates are truly amazing, and such a diverse group of people. They have so many wonderful stories of interactions with their CASA children. It really is such a pleasure to work with all of my advocates."
In her spare time, Mary loves spending time with her 17 month old granddaughter with whom she shares a special bond (aka "it's a Nana thing"). She also enjoys traveling, painting, and compiling photo slideshows with music.
Cradles to Crayons Offers Innovative Service Delivery for Children 0-3
Among the growing numbers of Arizona youth in foster care, infants and toddlers continue to be widely recognized as the community's most vulnerable population. Research shows that children under the age of five have the highest fatality rates as a result of abuse and neglect, stay in the system longer, have higher rates of system re-entry, higher rates of developmental delay and neurological impairment, and high levels of stress during critical periods of brain development.
Maricopa County Develops Special Program to Serve Vulnerable Population
In response to this emerging trend, Maricopa County has developed a program called Cradle to Crayons (C2C). Housed at the Maricopa County Child Welfare Center, the C2C program is a collaborative project with community partners to improve outcomes for high-risk infants, toddlers, and their families.
Through the C2C program, the Maricopa County Juvenile Court is offering a myriad of additional services to move children through the foster care system more quickly while providing increased attention on their developmental needs and the rehabilitation of their parents.
These services include: assigning specially trained judges to manage only cases for children ages 0 to 3; concurrent planning on every case; ordering more frequent hearings as well as more frequent parent contact; identifying appropriate community stakeholders for family treatment; Dependency Treatment Court; child/parent psychotherapy; and trauma therapy.
Among its desired outcomes, the C2C program strives to increase the percentage of cases that result in permanency, decrease the average length of dependency court cases, and improve linkages between community services and providers to ensure all children in care ages 0 to 3 have the services they need.
For more information on the Cradles to Crayons program, please contact Karin Philips at email@example.com.
Training & Resources
2014 Advocacy Academy Schedule
The dates for the first quarter of Advocacy Academy are now available and listed below. If you have any questions regarding Academy enrollment, please contact Lori Heredia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tucson Academy: February 13-14 at the Tucson Training Center
Phoenix Academy: March 21-22 at the Administrative Office of the Courts (Capacity of 150 attendees)
Tucson Academy: April 10-11 (Dates Subject to Change) at the Tucson Training Center
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month!
CASA of Arizona Prepares for 2014 Campaign Launch
With April quickly approaching, the state CASA office has been hard at work developing its annual Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign. The statewide CASA campaign for 2014 will be announced in the next several weeks, and sample materials will be distributed to the counties for order. If you have any questions, or would like any additional support with campaign activities in your county, please contact Kayla Fulmer at email@example.com or 602-452-3683.
Be a CASA for a Baby
Submitted by Mary G. Warren, PhD, IMHE (IV)
More Baby CASAs are needed.
A CASA is a Court Appointed Special Advocate for a child in foster care. According to the National CASA Association website (http://www.casaforchildren.org), "CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to represent the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect." To date, most CASAs have been involved with children of at least school age; verbal children who can walk down to the park to play catch, go to the movies or out to eat.
Why does the court need CASAs for babies?
Nationally we know that nearly one in four foster children who enter care are under 1 year of age; are more likely to be adopted; and are vulnerable to developmental delay leading to risks for failure in school and life (Wulczyn F., Ernst, M. & Fisher, P., 2011). In Arizona, infants less than 1 year old are the largest age group to enter care, remain in care longer, and more often return to foster care after reunification with parents due to re-abuse (1 in 5) (Arizona Department of Economic Security, 2012). We also know that the period from birth to 5 years is a very sensitive period for all children.
Four important bodies of research inform policy and practice for children birth to five years: brain development, child development, ACEs, and economic investment in early care and education.
- Neuroscience documents the tremendous growth of the brain during the first five years of life. Brain development affects growth and development in all other domains. Trauma from abuse or neglect, as well as separation and loss of familiar caregivers, dramatically alters brain development (The Developing Child, 2012).
- Child development research tells us how babies learn, and how parents can facilitate that learning, or not. We know that safe, stable, nurturing relationships are key to maximizing the child's capabilities (The Developing Child, 2010).
- Adverse childhood experiences (negative events that happen prior to 18 years of age, like physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect, maternal depression, incarcerated parent, domestic violence) have demonstrated serious consequences for adult health and well-being, and can be a factor in intergenerational abuse and neglect (Felitti and Anda, 1998).
- Economists have solid research supporting investment in the early years as the most effective return on investment for our society (Heckman, n.d.). Savings range from $4-$17 for every $1 invested, depending on who is calculating and how deeply the cost benefits touch education, crime, welfare and productivity (CED, 2012).
All of this newly exploding research combines to strongly suggest that paying attention to the growth and development of infants and toddlers at this critical developmental stage of life is a cost effective investment in our society. Child maltreatment is most often intergenerational. We have an opportunity to halt that intergenerational cycle by investing in the children most vulnerable to abuse and neglect, the babies. Creating positive childhood experiences for children in the dependency system can embed in them a positive model for parenting their future children.
What does a Baby CASA do?
When the assigned child is a preverbal infant or toddler, the CASA's work is necessarily with the child and caregiver(s). How do the caregiver and child relate to one another? Is the child learning to trust that the caregiver will protect and comfort him? Does the caregiver allow the child to use his muscles and explore his world? Can we help the caregiver to sensitively interpret baby behavior?
It may be easiest to explain with an example. Let's meet Katie.
Katie was born drug exposed (meth, alcohol and tobacco) and placed in foster care upon discharge from the hospital, as had two older siblings who were subsequently adopted into other families' care. Their mother, Leah, 18 years when the first baby was born, had a serious substance abuse history, and because she could not safely or adequately meet the needs of her babies, she lost parental rights to them soon after Katie was born. She said of Katie at the time she was removed, "The drugs are winning. I don't want this baby girl."
I was assigned as Katie's CASA two weeks after her birth. Katie's GAL (guardian ad litem or attorney) asked why a CASA was needed on this case; it looked like her mother's rights would be terminated and she would also be adopted. However, a CASA could be a valuable advocate for Katie while she remained in the custody of Child Protective Services (CPS).
My first step was to review the state case file at CPS. Leah, Katie's mother, had been in the foster care system since she was 7, never graduating high school or earning a GED; her own mother had been in and out of prison for substance abuse. Katie's father, Leo, who is 10 years older than Leah and father of two teenaged girls, had been imprisoned for 9 years for his involvement in a murder, with multiple entries prior to that for juvenile offenses. He was a heroin addict and dealer and had been jailed for the 95 days just prior to Katie's birth for nearly strangling Leah. Both Leo's father and mother had prison records, as did his older brother and sister-in-law, his nearest relatives and foster parents of his two daughters. He completed a GED while in prison. He has never held a job.
This is a case of intergenerational trauma. Poor parenting skills and insecure attachments have dealt Leah and Leo dysfunctional models for coping with life, and especially for parenting Katie. Such inadequate parenting puts Katie at risk to repeat a life of abuse, neglect, lack of education, and potential crime. The effects of adverse childhood experiences are obvious for these parents, leading them to engage in risky behaviors which are already showing up in drug abuse, depression, and inability to hold a job. People working with this family need to view them from a trauma informed lens, asking "How are these adverse childhood experiences affecting you?" not "What's wrong with you?"
Katie was placed for the first month of her life with the foster mother who adopted Katie's middle sister, but she cannot adopt Katie. Katie's father requested that Katie be moved to his brother and sister-in-law, who are also caring for his teenage daughters born prior to his prison term. The Court agreed.
I visited Katie and her new foster family every other week. The foster mother, Sarah, now a grandmother, had not cared for a newborn in a long time. She was very loathe to put Katie on her tummy, which limited Katie's opportunities to stretch her muscles. She was either held or put on her back in a portable bed. Katie's development was worrisome to me. Although Katie was not an irritable baby, she appeared to have mixed muscle tone, consistently stuck her little tongue out like a snake, and spit up a lot, all consistent with prenatal drug exposure. I requested a visit from the child development/early intervention specialist to assess her for any delays. Both the specialist and I introduced play activities to Sarah to help Katie strengthen her muscle tone and practice using her muscles. We both encouraged Sarah to take Katie to the pediatric clinic for immunizations and anticipatory guidance as well as treatment for frequent colds. I urged the specialist to continue routine visits with Sarah and Katie to assess the baby's progress and to update activities for the foster mother and teenage half-siblings to play with Katie.
It was gratifying to put knowledge about early brain development and child development right to work to help the foster parent recognize her role as the child's first and best teacher.
I teamed with the social worker for Katie's attorney to make a home visit. We jointly recommended that Sarah talk to the pediatric clinic about the abnormal amount of formula Katie spit up and her near constant respiratory problems. With repeated urging, we finally encouraged Sarah to take Katie to the clinic. A swallow test (x-ray) was conducted and thickening gel prescribed for "silent aspiration"-another probable result of prenatal drug exposure.
Leah and Leo, the biological parents, had been ordered to drop random urine tests and attend substance abuse treatment sessions. It was clear that Leo intended to keep Leah clean in order to comply with these court orders so that they could get Katie back with them. Other court orders for the parents included domestic violence counseling and couples counseling. Parents must show the court that they can and want to be good parents to their child by complying with all court orders before the judge will grant parent-child reunification, placing the child back in the parents' home.
When reunification is the case plan, a best practice to improve outcomes for infants and toddlers in foster care is to ensure that the biological parents and children see each other frequently. In one study, researchers found that for every additional visit per week, reunification is three times more likely (Potter & Klein-Rothchild, 2002).
The Court had ordered supervised visits between Katie and her biological parents for two hours twice a week. It took a while for the state contracted Parent Aide services to start, so Leah and Leo visited her twice a week in the CPS office, then in the Parent Aide contractor office because they did not have their own home. In order to increase the amount of time they could see their baby, now 4 months old, the parents attended the same church that the foster family attended. I also attended church so that I could see how Leah, Leo, and Katie were interacting and relating to one another. During one of these visits at church, the foster family, biological parents, and I all sat down to talk about how things were going and how to create a safe, stable environment for Katie. It was during this visit that Leo said he was very uncomfortable with the Parent Aide who was supervising visits twice a week at the Parent Aide office. The discomfort Leo felt was interfering with his interactions with Katie. I urged him to request a change in Parent Aide. He did. Subsequent visits went much better. Leo got a job, which led to renting an apartment, and Katie could visit her parents in their home, still supervised.
When the CASA believes it is in the child's best interest, she can take the opportunity to listen to parents and encourage them to advocate for themselves in support of reunification with their baby.
A Baby CASA's primary responsibility is to observe the baby in an effort to understand what it is like for the baby to figure out who she can trust to contingently respond to her needs for not only food and comfort, but also for emerging recognition of who she is. During the first two years of life, babies learn which people in their lives are their very important people (VIPs). Ideally, these are the people who will protect them, keep them safe, and encourage them to explore their world. Very young children need skin-to-skin contact with their VIPs. They do not yet have the memory skills to keep their VIPs in mind when out of sight. As Urenbrenner said, "...in order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody's got to be crazy about that kid. That's number one. First, last, and always."(National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004) When appropriate, the CASA can advocate for frequent and regular visits with the biological parents, in natural settings if possible, so that the child can experience the touch, voice, smells, and faces of his/her parents, to hopefully experience "an irrational emotional relationship" between parent(s) and child.
The CASA also has an opportunity to encourage foster parents to fall in love with the baby, to provide a day-to-day person who is "crazy" about him/her. Research by Nelson and Zeanah (2009), studying placement of Romanian orphans in community-based foster homes with foster parents capable of positive emotional investment in them, shows that children placed prior to age 18 months can develop secure attachments and make up lost ground in physical, cognitive, and emotional domains (Zeanah et.al, 2009).
One day, I got a call telling me that Katie had been abruptly removed from the foster home she had been in for 5 months and placed in a new foster home. CPS felt she was unsafe there. An older child in the foster home had been harmed, so CPS removed Katie. Katie, at 6 months, lost the foster parent who had provided her with secure and stable care and adjust, for the third time, to new surroundings and a new "mothering" figure.
I was worried that this move would be hard for Katie-- that she would get sick again, that the small gains she had made developmentally might stall. It is a testament to the resilience that can be engendered by safe, stable care of an infant-even if for only 5 months-that Katie could experience minimal outward disruption in her eating and sleeping schedules when she was placed in the new foster home with a foster mother who was crazy about her. The only clue that I could see in Katie's behavior was reluctance to approach me when I visited in her new foster home. She and I had seen each other every other week over the past 5 months and she was beginning to enjoy sitting in my lap or giggling when we played peek-a-boo. Now she wanted to stay in her foster mother's arms.
Fortunately, the new foster mother, Jane, was a responsive, nurturing young woman who gave Katie lots of physical affection as well as daily routines for eating, sleeping, and exploring. At the new foster home, Katie played with 2 other children just one and two years older. There were lots of toys, and more people to interact with her. Given the positive structure of this household, I could see Katie begin to turn to Jane for comfort and reassurance.
But while Katie was learning to trust that Jane would protect and support her emerging exploration, I was feeling anxious about how to best advocate for Katie in the reunification process with her biological parents, Leah and Leo. Given the substance abuse and violence experienced by and between her parents, would reunification be the best for Katie? Jane's household was providing a good place for Katie to be safe, healthy, and to be encouraged to get back on track with developmental milestones. On the other hand, research says children do best long term when returned to their parents. Could Leah and Leo learn to be "good enough" parents?
I had observed how Katie fussed when her foster mother was out of her sight, and how she quickly quieted when back in Jane's arms, ready to go back to playing with the toys. Although supervised visits occurred twice weekly at the biological parents' apartment, I could see that Katie's mother had such a difficult time responding appropriately and often misread Katie's cues. I had observed how Leah seemed to try too hard to get Katie's attention, while Katie snuggled right into her father's shoulder when he picked her up. I wondered if Leah felt sad that she had already lost two daughters and could lose Katie as well. Was she feeling incompetent? I worried about Leah because she appeared emotionally shut down, anxious, unable to hold or offer emotional support to her baby girl. My observations of Leo reflected that Katie liked to be with her father who appeared comfortable and responsive to her. Was Leo concerned that he might not get to parent this baby as she grew into her teen years?
I needed to talk about this case with my CASA Coordinator and an infant mental health specialist. Fortunately, a Baby CASA Training and Support Forum was coming up in a few days. Both the CASA Coordinator and the infant mental health specialist attend this Forum. Along with other CASAs with cases involving infants and toddlers, I talked about my observations of Katie and her significant relationships. This Forum was helpful as I sorted out what I wanted to write in my court report. Suggestions were made about research citations that I could include to help the Judge understand my reasoning. In my Court Report, I recommended more social and emotional support for the parents (Bandy, Andrews, and Moore, 2012) through a home visiting or Early Head Start program, or even Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) or other dyadic, relationship-focused therapy. Fortunately, the Judge could order CPP for this young family. The support provided through therapy allowed both Leah and Leo to recognize their role as nurturing, responsive parents to Katie.
The case had been in dependency court since Katie was born and placed in the first foster home twelve months ago. Overnight visits with biological parents had been occurring twice a week, with only pop-in supervision for the past month, with the Parent Aide reporting no safety issues. In the eyes of the court, Leah and Leo met the definition of "good enough parents". The persons responsible to monitor parent-child interactions reported no safety concerns for the child, the parents had shown ability to provide adequate food and shelter, and they had complied with the services in the case plan, ie., substance abuse testing, counseling, etc. The Child Parent Psychotherapist's report showed progress for this family in their journey to deal with the traumatic histories both parents came with and to forge a new parenting role to the benefit of their daughter and their family. The Judge at the permanency hearing agreed to family reunification, with strong recommendations for Leah and Leo to agree to participate in family support programs such as a voluntary home visiting program and, if available, enrollment in Early Head Start, and to continue with CPP.
When the Judge asked for my comments as a Baby CASA, I urged both parents to accept help in developing positive supports within their community. I spoke directly to Katie's Mother to encourage her to continue with community and therapeutic relationships that would support her in her relationship with her little girl. I encouraged her to complete her GED so she could be homework help to Katie when she was in school. I spoke directly to Katie's father about his nurturing way with Katie and how important he was to her continued health and growth. I encouraged him to support his wife to become the best mother she could be for Katie.
I felt fortunate to be assigned to this case that some thought would result in the termination of parental rights and Katie's subsequent adoption. Perhaps my involvement had helped all the parties - the foster parents, the biological parents, the early interventionist, the CPS worker and the Judge - understand Katie's needs and led to the best possible outcome for Katie-a safe, stable, nurturing permanent home.
Arizona Department of Economic Security (2012), Child Welfare Reporting requirements: Semi-annual report.
Bandy, T., Andrews, K.M., & Moore, K.A. (2012). Disadvantaged Families and Child Outcomes: Importance of Emotional Support for Mothers, Publication #2012-05
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2010). The Foundations of Lifelong Health Are Built in Early Childhood
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2012). The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain: Working Paper 12
Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS. (1998) Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 14:245-258. Additional ACE Study findings and information
Heckman, J. (n.d.) Why early investment matters
National CASA Association. (2013) About Us
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Working Paper No. 1
CED. (2012). Unfinished Business: Continued Investment in Child Care and Early Education is Critical to Business and America's Future. A Statement by the Policy and Impact Committee of the Committee for Economic Development
Potter, C. & Klein-Rothschild, S. (2002). Getting home on time: Predicting timely
permanency for young children. Child Welfare, 81 (2), 123-150.
Wulczyn F., Ernst, M. & Fisher, P. (2011). Who Are the Infants in Out-of-Home Care? An Epidemiological and Developmental Snapshot. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Zeanah, C. H., Egger, H. L., Smyke, A. T., Nelson, C. A.,; Fox, N. A., Marshall, P. J., Guthrie, D. (2009). Institutional Rearing and Psychiatric Disorders in Romanian Preschool Children
American Journal of Psychiatry, 166:777-785. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.08091438
The Best for Babies (B4B) program in Arizona is modeled after the Zero To Three Safe Babies Court Teams. B4B is a project of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona and is funded by the Court Improvement Project of the Arizona Office of the Courts and First Things First.
The names in the case example have been changed as required to protect the confidentiality of all children and families in the dependency system.
Update on Foster Care Tuition Waiver
Submitted by Meghan Arrigo, Children's Action Alliance
Children's Action Alliance (CAA) has been working with DES and Foster Care To Success (FC2S) to stream-line the process for students to apply for BOTH the Tuition Waiver and Educational Training Voucher (ETV) in one application. This on-line application process creates a centralized data system that allows public community colleges and universities to track student eligibility, report funds applied, and produce mandated reports for the five-year pilot review by the Auditor General's Office (while maintaining FERPA standards).
FC2S has spent the past several months designing and rolling out this new on-line portal system. They are working collaboratively to train community college and university staff on how to use the new system.
Prospective students who might be eligible for ETV or the Tuition Waiver can visit the FC2S website and apply directly on-line. If a student has already applied for ETV but not the Tuition Waiver, they can log into their student portal and check the "Tuition Waiver" box to see about program eligibility. They can also reach out to:
FC2S Website: http://www.fc2success.org/
FC2S AZ Coordinator: Blair Fogarty
Updates, summaries and articles.
ARIZONA INFORMANT: "SAVING OUR CHILDREN" SERIES
By Kayla Fulmer, CASA Marketing and Community Outreach Specialist
The Arizona Informant Newspaper has generously partnered with CASA of Arizona to publish a year long series of articles addressing the struggles of African American children in care, as well as showcase the local leaders that are spearheading the efforts to help them. Special thanks to the Arizona Informant for their commitment and dedication to making a difference in the lives of these children. Check out the latest installment of the "Saving Our Children" series printed in the Arizona Informant below.
Nearly two months have passed since the heartwarming story of Florida foster teen, Davion Only, swept the nation. After standing up in his local church and pleading for a forever family, Davion's story quickly went viral, resulting in more than 10,000 families expressing interest in adopting him.
While the coverage of Davion's story provided a face for thousands of foster children across the country, preparations for another national spotlight on foster care and adoption were also taking place.
Communities and courts throughout the country joined together to celebrate National Adoption Day on November 23, 2013. This national effort takes place annually to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children, like Davion, in the foster care system that are waiting to find permanent, loving families.
Throughout the United States, an estimated 4,500 children found their forever homes this year on National Adoption Day. Over 300 of those adoptions took place locally in Maricopa County, making it the host of the largest adoption event in the entire country. In fact, Maricopa County has held the largest adoption celebration in the nation for the last four years running.
Judge Maurice Portley (pictured right), now an appellate judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, can still distinctly recall the first year that Maricopa County decided to participate in this national movement.
Thirteen years ago, while working as the Presiding Juvenile Judge of Maricopa County, Judge Portley attended a conference where he heard about larger cities in New York and California holding adoption celebrations. He returned to his court where he and his team promptly gathered a group of stakeholders, attorneys, and providers to plan a similar event for families in Maricopa County.
Judge Portley's efforts found great success, and resulted in approximately 25 children being adopted that inaugural year. The momentum for an Adoption Day celebration quickly grew, and resulted in the formation of the Maricopa County National Adoption Day Foundation. This nonprofit organization now acts as the organizing and fundraising entity for the Adoption Day celebration each year. Their efforts have allowed the event to grow and expand, creating an undeniably memorable experience for the children that attend. Aside from the actual court proceedings, families in attendance enjoy cake, family photos, DJs, team mascots, superheroes, and Sesame Street characters.
Judge Portley continues to attend Maricopa County's Adoption Day every year, and shares his excitement at seeing the tremendous growth the event has experienced since its inception. "It is a wonderful tribute to the courts, the organizers, and the community that it continues," he says. "It's been a joy to watch." Judge Portley also insists that the continued success of Maricopa County's National Adoption Day would not be possible without the help and support of the community. "Once a year it serves as a reminder that we can all work together and find a way to help these kids," he says.
"Every child wants to be normal. They want stability and permanency, and this is what adoption provides," Judge Portley says. "These children know they can go to a place where they can be loved and taken care of, no matter how good or bad they are. They need those hugs, to wipe away the tears, to teach them to drive. That is what we as adults can do."
There are several components of National Adoption Day celebrations. Not only is it an opportunity to finalize adoptions and celebrate the families who do adopt, but it also is a chance to encourage others to adopt from foster care, and increase awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care awaiting permanent, loving homes.
This avenue for public education is one that Judge Portley sees as particularly important. "We hear all the time from people, 'I'm here because I came last year to watch, and I learned, and decided that I can do this too," he says.
"With the help of the community, these children are finding forever families. They now have the opportunity for care, love, family, and education," says Judge Portley. "Doesn't every child deserve that?"
Stories from county programs.
County Highlights & Happenings
Check out each County's website for the most up-to-date information! CLICK HERE to select a County Website, then click on News & Events
CASA Volunteers Hold Toiletry Drive for Domestic Violence Shelter
CASA Volunteers from La Paz County collected toiletries throughout October and November for the Colorado River Regional Crisis Shelter (CRRCS). CRRCS works to empower individuals and their families to live a life free from domestic violence by providing protection, education and resources. Kudos to these volunteers for their ongoing support and advocacy of families in their community
CASA Hosts Outreach Table for Volunteer Recruitment at Mesa MLK Festival
ASA Volunteer, Adele James, from CASA of Maricopa County manned the CASA of Arizona table at the Mesa MLK Festival on January 20th. This event served as an opportunity to increase the visibility of CASA within the African American community, and to help recruit new volunteers that will reflect the diversity of children in foster care. Thank you to Adele for generously offering your time to support recruitment efforts in the community!
CASA of Arizona Wants to Hear From You!
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