Court Appointed Special Advocates of Morris and Sussex Counties

The Background:

In 1977, a Seattle Superior Court Judge named David Soukup was concerned about trying to make decisions on behalf of abused and neglected children without enough information. He conceived the idea of appointing community volunteers to independently investigate the cases, make recommendations, and speak up in court about what was in the best interest of the child. He made a request for volunteers; 50 citizens responded, and that was the start of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) movement. News of the success of Judge Soukup's experiment spread like wildfire and CASA programs sprang up all over the United States. Currently there are approximately 950 CASA programs throughout the United States, and CASA volunteers have helped more than 2 million children find safe, permanent homes in which they can thrive.

The Grantee:

Founded in 1987, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Morris and Sussex Counties’ mission is to provide volunteers to help children in Morris and Sussex County who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or abandonment and temporarily placed into foster care or residential facilities. Trained volunteers speak on behalf of the child they are assigned to, representing the child’s best interest to family court judges and other welfare agencies and ensuring that the child’s foster care placement is a constructive environment. Family reunification is the preferred outcome for cases, when it is safe for the children. Cases consist of individual children or sibling groups who have all been removed from their home.

Volunteer advocates are screened, receive a background check and undergo 36 hours of training before being assigned to a case by a CASA case supervisor. The advocate’s specific responsibilities include assessing the child’s history and family environment; seeking out and securing services needed for the child, such as medical exams, therapy evaluations, educational tutoring or alternative school placements; supervising visitations between children and potential caretakers in order to monitor the child’s safety; connecting other parties in the case, such as foster or biological parents, to necessary resources; researching and pursuing potential permanent placements for the child; and making oral or written recommendations to the judge assigned to the case, among many other things. CASA of Morris and Sussex Counties works particularly closely with the Family Drug Court, which oversees cases involving substance-abusing parents and children in neglect or abuse situations.

The Impact:

Volunteers are asked to make a minimum one-year commitment, preferably until the case is closed (on average 1.5 years) and receive 12 hours of ongoing in-service training sessions each year. The average volunteer length of service is 3.5 years, the longest average volunteer service of any CASA program in New Jersey. In FY 2016-17, 175 volunteers advocated on behalf of 338 children, 34 of whom are from Morristown or living there while their cases are being adjudicated. Of the 338 served, 129 secured permanent, safe, and nurturing home environments.