Groups combine forces to provide better support for abused or neglected children

Published on Thursday, 22 July 2021 15:22
Written by Catherine Shen


Building a solid foundation of support services for vulnerable youth statewide, the Court Appointed Special Advocates in the state is now a unified organization called Connecticut CASA.

Effective July 1, CASA affiliates for southern and northern Connecticut combined forces in order to provide better support for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.

“The kids are the reason why we are here and we want to continue to be able to have people who can speak on behalf of them,” said Denise McNair, a board member of the CASA northern chapter. “For the past year, we’ve been working hard to put together the merger so we can best serve our kids.”

Connecticut CASA recruits, trains and supports volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Through volunteers, they meet with children regularly, learn about their circumstances and get to know them, including teachers, social workers, foster parents and families. The statewide entity is part of the National CASA network across 49 states, together representing over 96,000 volunteers for nearly 277,000 children.

The organization receives court appointments in both foster care and protective supervision cases, where CASA volunteers make evidence-based recommendations to judges. Volunteers are carefully screened and trained through a systematic curriculum and part of a national network, according to Connecticut CASA.

State Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes said children, who are some of the most vulnerable in society, are best served by a team of caring adults.

“We remain appreciative of Court Appointed Special Advocates and their partnership to ensure the best interests of children and families remain at the forefront of all our efforts within local communities,” she said.

By having a volunteer work closely with a child from start to finish helps establish a smoother process as they work with the court system, state departments and other agencies, said McNair. “The need for an extra set of support is necessary in a lot of cases for the child’s best interest and I don’t think you can have too many support services.”

Especially as the pandemic eases, there is a need to reestablish potential lost connections, maintaining contact with children and families who struggled with remote learning and increasing the numbers of volunteers.

Josiah Brown, executive director of Connecticut CASA, said the collaboration between volunteers and other professionals is a crucial element while addressing the children’s needs.

“This is even more true when professionals have heavy caseloads, so CASA volunteers can help address those needs by having a consistent adult presence for the kids,” he said. “We hope to focus on reunifying families faster while increasing prevention of the children from being removed from their families in the first place.”

CASA volunteers also didn’t stop during the pandemic shutdown, Brown said. They had just finished training the first cohort of volunteers in December 2019 and were in the process of training the second cohort right before the pandemic.

“We were able to shift the training to an online format and we also pivoted early,” Brown said. “Despite the pandemic, we’ve had a steady stream of applicants for volunteers, with ages ranging anywhere from their 20s to 70s and from all kinds of backgrounds. In some ways, I think the pandemic helped people realize what their priorities are; what are some community needs; and what they can do to help. We do expect to grow, but we continue to emphasize the quality of work and adherence to standards rather than the sheer number of young people served.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Thursday, 22 July 2021 15:22. Updated: Thursday, 22 July 2021 15:25.