Anna Woodfin graduated from Dickinson College in May of 2020 with a double major in Political Science and Law & Policy. While at school she volunteered as a GED Tutor at the local prison, studied abroad in Norwich, England, and interned with the Cumberland County CASA Program. Anna joined CASA in October 2020 to serve as the Volunteer Coordinator responsible for serving as the main point of contact between CASA and prospective volunteers- from the moment they express interest in CASA all the way through training. Her goal for the year is to successfully recruit 80 new volunteers to be matched with kids awaiting a CASA and help CASA advance their goal of serving every child in foster care. Anna will be serving as CASA’s Volunteer Coordinator AmeriCorps for one year through a partnership with Volunteer Maryland focused on growing volunteer programs. Anna is excited to get to know the volunteers and start her nonprofit career.
The Maryland CASA Association, interviewed our very own Yatisa Montre Dupree about what motivated her to be a CASA volunteer. “Montre’ is a mother of a son who was born 1 lb. 10oz and three months premature, an experience she says impacted her decision to become a CASA volunteer. ‘I was his first advocate,’ Dupree says. After her son was born, she ensured that he received proper care and his specific needs were addressed while being hospitalized. ‘I feel this experience ignited my desire to help others in addition to participating in church, family and missionary activities’”.
Yatisa, better known in the office as Tre, was so inspired by her experience as a CASA volunteer that she joined our staff as Outreach Coordinator to encourage others to step up to be a ‘Horton.’ Click here for her full story.
Malca Giblin, a retired federal employee who earlier worked at the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services, is our longest serving volunteer. She first signed up in 2003, two years after we opened our doors as a powerful voice for foster children.
Malca is now in her second tour of duty as one of our Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), having represented a total of four foster children over 12 years. Between her CASA stints, she’s handled a variety of administrative tasks at our nonprofit.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Malca says.
“People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so wonderful,” Malca says. “I say, ‘No I’m not that wonderful.”
“I do it because I know of the many problems in the (child welfare) system, and I know it is useful to have a person who can be above the day to day stuff” and monitor the overall welfare of the child, she says. “I never feel I have to be best buddy with youngster. It’s more important to be helpful to them and be able to report back to court what you are seeing and what the child needs.”
“It never stops,” she says “There are always youngsters whose lives are in turmoil. I don’t see myself as saving a child. I see myself as someone trying to make a difference. Sometimes the small victories are the ones you have to be happy with.”
It’s often tough.
“It gets to you when you see the inequities that these kids have to contend with and you wonder sometimes what motivates their foster parents,” Malca says.
While most foster parents are dedicated, she tells of one who seemed more motivated by money than love. Ultimately the girl was removed from the home after the youngster and another foster child accused the woman of hitting them.
The child was then placed with another foster mom. But the new foster mom decided she didn’t want her. So the youth was moved again.
Malca’s current youth is a teenage boy who was born HIV positive and now lives at a residential treatment center. Another youth with whom she worked also had multiple problems that were compounded when her foster parents divorced.
One of Malca’s cases, however, showed that a foster child can succeed – big time. The youngster beat the odds, overcame health issues, graduated from high school and college and then began a company of her own.
“She had a lot going for her,” Malca said. “She was determined and took advantage of the opportunities that we helped provide her.”
Malca first helped at-risk children as a DSS case worker in the 1970’s. After five years, she left and joined the National Institute of Health. After 20 years at NIH, during which she and her husband raised their two children, she retired, and decided to again help troubled youth, this time as a CASA.
“I knew I could do this,” Malca said.
Ann Marie Binsner, Executive Director of CASA/Prince George’s County, said, “Malca represents who we are and what we do and why we do it. Regardless of what Malca says, we all agree: She’s wonderful.”
As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children, Nathaniel Wallace likes to take the “tough cases,” the ones fellow volunteers prefer to avoid.
“I believe it’s my calling,” says Nathaniel, a grade school teacher and active church goer. “I think God tells me to take these tough cases because no one else wants them.”
Since becoming a CASA in 2014, Nathaniel has accepted two highly difficult cases. Both involved teenagers, a female and a male, who had been abandoned by their families and suffered from behavioral problems.
For three years, Nathaniel advocated for the young woman in court, met with her teachers, therapists and caregivers, and repeatedly reached out to her father to attempt to establish a connection with his daughter.
The young woman ended up aging out of foster care at 21 – homeless, jobless and confined to a wheelchair as the result of being paralyzed from the waist down in a shooting.
“I was there in court when she aged out,” Nathaniel said. “It was sad. I told her to keep in touch with me. And she does. She has my number. I still try to help when I can.”
After her case closed, Nathaniel was offered a far easier one, that of a 1-year-old girl and her 3-year-old brother who, because of their young ages, were prime candidates for adoption.
Nathaniel was tempted. But then he heard about a troubled 13-year-old boy who had been abandoned by his parents and has significant behavioral issues.
“The young man had been waiting for a CASA for nearly a year,” Nathaniel said. “No one wanted him. So, I took him. He deserves to be helped, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Cheryl Richards, his supervisor at CASA/Prince George’s County, said, “Nathaniel is fearless. Nothing scares him. He lives to help others.”
Nathaniel knows first-hand about foster care. His mom was in foster care from age 3 until she aged out at 18. Without a CASA, she received limited help. But she managed to graduate high school, get a job and have a family of her own.
“I contacted CASA because I want to help,” Nathaniel said. “Being a CASA is tough. You can feel burned out. You got to take care of yourself. You got to stick to your beliefs. You have to want to make a difference.”
Dianne McGill wanted two at-risk siblings to have successful futures. So, she advocated for an adoption plan that turned their temporary foster home into a permanent and loving one.
Dianne achieved the feat as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) on behalf of a 10-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister, who had been abused and neglected by their biological parents.
“The kids needed a sense of family,” Dianne said. “They needed to be loved.”
Like many adoptions, the road to this one had plenty of twists and turns, ones that Dianne took the lead to navigate before the court finally approved it.
“Dianne was the glue in the case,” said Phil Lartigue, Dianne’s supervisor at CASA/Prince George’s County. “She made sure everyone worked together. She earned the trust of all stakeholders.”
Stakeholders included the Prince George’s County courts and Department of Social Services (DSS), the children’s school and teachers, the foster mom and dad who were becoming the adoptive parents, the brother and sister, and their respective attorneys.
CASAs are routinely involved in the adoption of foster children, one of the goals in helping foster child achieve permanence. Adopted children are far more apt to graduate high school, get a job and avoid homelessness than those who remain in foster care until they age out as young adults, often with little, if any, support.
Dianne saw that once her CASA children were placed in the foster home they had support. “They quickly fell in love with their new foster parents, and the foster mom and foster dad fell in love with the them,” she said.
Both sides wanted adoption. But the foster parents backed off after the children began to show behavioral problems. “The girl would have crying fits, and the boy would exhibit inappropriate behavior towards other children,” Dianne said.
At one point, DSS appeared ready to remove the children from the home after a therapist witnessed what she perceived as an inappropriate response from the foster mom in presence of the girl.
At an emergency meeting, Dianne advocated for the foster mom. She pointed out that the mom’s response was at a time of extreme frustration over the need for timely support.
“Rather than take the kids from home, I said ‘give the family the resources that they need’ in the form of intense trauma-based therapy to help the kids,” Dianne said.
Afterward, all agreed that the children would remain in the home.With additional support, problems began to ease, and the foster family was back on track toward adoption.
In court, Dianne made the case for adoption, saying it would create a loving and permanent family that which would give the brother and sister a needed foundation.
Dianne became a CASA after retiring as a healthcare administrator. “I had a lot of free time and was looking for something to do. I found CASA and thought, ‘This is something I can do,’” she said. “I had worked previously as a patient advocate. I like to advocate for those in need.”
Dianne was assigned to the brother and sister immediately began to bond with them. “It was very important to me that we forge a close enough bond so that the children knew I was someone whom they could depend on,” she said. “This was accomplished.”
As a retired member of the U.S. Capitol Police, Antoinette Jeffries respects authority. As a Court Appointed Special Advocate, she also challenges it. She has repeatedly done both if she believes a foster child has been unnecessarily or excessively medicated.
“I’m passionate about this,” said Antoinette, who has confronted medical doctors and psychiatrists, teachers, foster parents and judges. “I ask, ‘Why? Why are these children on medication? Do they really need it? Is it helping? Or is it hurting? Says who?’”
Since becoming a CASA five years ago, Antoinette has asked these questions on behalf of five foster children, most recently three siblings – two grade-school brothers and their teenage sister. Each time, the medication was reduced or eliminated.
In one case, a judge accepted Antoinette’s recommendation to order the Department of Social Services to get a new psychiatrist for a child who had been placed on medication after being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At times, the child had seemed hyperactive and inattentive. Other times, the child seemed lethargic. The new psychiatrist stopped all medication, and the child soon began doing much better in school and made the honor roll.
“What a difference,” Antoinette said.
ADHD is a common diagnosis among children, particularly those in foster care. It’s also a common misdiagnosis, particularly among children who are considered difficult to handle. Medication often makes them sluggish and easier to manage.
“I met with one psychiatrist and asked why one of the boys was on medication,” Antoinette said. “He got the chart. He said the boy was already on medication when he got the case.”
“He then pulled out a report from the boy’s teacher and quoted her as saying the boy doesn’t pay attention, often looks out the window when he should be listening and constantly moves from one thing to another.”
I said, “‘You just described me. A lot of people do that and they aren’t on medication.’”
Antoinette became a CASA shortly after retiring from the Capitol Police. “I read that foster children needed help, and I figured that I could help,” she said. “I had no idea that it would get me involved in questioning medication, but I’m glad it did.”
Sarah Bosken, Antoinette’s CASA Supervisor, is also pleased with Antoinette’s interest in medication. They often discuss medication in preparing Antoinette’s reports to the court on each of her foster youth.
“Antoinette isn’t an anti-medication crusader,” Sarah said. “She’s an appropriate medication crusader. Most CASAs are reluctant to challenge medications because they aren’t doctors. But Antoinette is willing to ask the uncomfortable questions, and has gotten results.”
Phyllis Hayes stood before the judge, described the problems facing her foster youth and recommended that the teenager’s estranged mother be required to attend his therapy sessions.
As the mother sat silently, the judge agreed, handing Phyllis a victory in her quest to improve the life of her emotionally and mentally challenged youth.
“I’m pleased,” Phyllis, a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), said afterward. “The boy wants to say certain things to his mother, and he wants to do it with the therapist in the room. The therapist gives him a needed sense of security.”
As a retired school principal and former teacher, Phyllis knows the value of homework, and did hers before going to court.
She spoke with the youth’s teachers and counselors at his school where she found that he had failed to be given required educational and psychological assessments. As a result of her advocacy, they will be given this year.
Phyllis also conferred with counselors at his therapeutic group home as well as the boy’s aunt, who has been his legal guardian since he came into care.
“I work closely with his aunt,” Phyllis said. “She calls me ‘Ma.’”
Before going to court, Phyllis also checked in with her Case Supervisor, Jeanmarie Graves.
“Phyllis is very diligent,” Jeanmarie said. “She knows her youth. She knows his case. She knows what needs to be done and works to get it done. Phyllis is truly a special advocate.”
As a CASA volunteer, Phyllis follows the same philosophy that she preached as an elementary school Principal.
“As a Principal, I told teachers that they should want to be the same type of teacher that they would want their own children to have,” Phyllis said. “If they weren’t, they knew that they were coming up short.”
“I now want to be the same type of CASA volunteer that I would want for my own child,” Phyllis said.
“My goal is to get for my youth all the service that are open to him, and to help him get the skills needed to get a job – one that he truly likes and makes him feel successful,” she said. “I want him to be able to live in a group home, to be able to go shopping, to be able to participate in society.”
“I want him to do so well,” Phyllis said.
Joseph Adetayo preaches the value of education to young people.
He’s done so for decades. First as the immigrant father of his three daughters, then as the foster parent of six children, and now as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for a young man getting ready to age out of foster care.
“With an education, you can go anywhere,” Joseph said. “With an education, you can do just about anything.”
While about half of foster children nationwide drop out of high school, all of those who Joseph has mentored have graduated, with a couple having gone on to college.
“I’m proud of all of them,” he said.
A native of Nigeria and retired software engineer, Joseph, 70, has been a CASA volunteer for about a decade. He and his wife, Patricia, earlier served for about 10 years as foster parents.
“I want to give back,” he said in explaining why he stepped up and served.
“Children need someone to love them,” he said. “They need someone to listen to them. They need someone to hear them out.”
Joseph’s foster youth has been in care for about seven years. He is the father of a baby girl who lives with her mother. Although he is unsure where his future will lead him, with Joseph at his side, he intends to keep learning and succeed.
CASA volunteers are overwhelmingly women, making Joseph a valued rarity.
“Joseph has been a father figure for his youth,” said Jeanmarie Albert, Joseph’s Case Supervisor. “They have a great relationship. They talk with each other. They listen to each other.”
Joseph’s youth recently aged out of foster care when he turned 21. Joseph plans to remain in his life, offering him guidance and help.
“I want him to have a future,” Joseph said.
“Joseph is an ideal CASA,” said Ann Marie Binsner, Executive Director of CASA/Prince George’s County. “He cares about his youth, and his youth knows it.”
At just their second meeting, the teenage foster youth told his new CASA volunteer, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” responded the CASA, James Allison.
The brief exchange spoke volumes. It made it clear that the youth, who has been in and out of several foster homes, had accepted James as his advocate and even friend. It also showed that James was committed to the boy.
“These kids need that assurance,” James said.
Two years into their relationship, James and his youth remain bonded. James is now helping him get ready to transition out of foster care and into independent living.
“I’ve been teaching him how to cook,” said James, who elicits love as well as respect.
“Oh, we’ve butted heads a couple times,” James said. But, he quickly added, they are always able to talk things out. James said the boy has repeatedly told him, “You’re the father I never had.’”
Most foster children never had a father in their lives. They have been neglected, abused and often abandoned by their biological parents, moms and dads.
James, who runs his own business – providing voice overs for such products as corporate websites, audio books and educational videos – said he became a CASA volunteer largely to help address the lack of male role models for black youth.
“I wanted to help,” James said.
James encourages others to become a CASA volunteer, “but only if you do it for the right reasons.”
“If you are there to burnish your resume, don’t do it,” he said. “Don’t waste your time or the youth’s time.”
“If you do it, make sure you are ready to commit and keep your promises. These kids don’t need more disappointments,” James said. “They need someone who they can rely on.”
Before being elected a U.S. congressman, Maryland lieutenant governor and state legislator, Anthony Brown served as a volunteer court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for foster children – an experience that helped shape his life in public service.
“I’ve been supportive of CASA ever since I served as one,” Brown said.
Brown became a CASA volunteer while a student at Harvard Law School in the early 1990s. He did it at the suggestion of the school that said it would provide him valuable courtroom experience and give needed legal aid to abused and neglected boys and girls.
“I was able to make a difference,” said Brown, who made sure that the children were properly housed and educated and getting necessary medical and therapeutic care. “The challenge when you first meet these children is winning their trust and confidence.”
Brown won their trust and confidence. And later, while in elected office, backed CASA programs across Maryland. He also served on the board of the Maryland CASA Association, and in 2005, received its Light for Children Award.
Brown represents Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, which includes much of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. He discussed his time with CASA in an interview with CASA/Prince George’s County.
“For people who volunteer to a be a court-appointed special advocate, my hat is off to them,” said Brown, elected to Congress in November 2016 after eight years as Maryland’s lieutenant governor and eight years in the Maryland House of Delegates. “It’s important work.”
“As a court appointed special advocate, I couldn’t put myself in the shoes of these young foster children,” Brown said. “But it certainly got me closer to what I saw as their very challenging childhoods. You couldn’t help but become more emphatic and caring. You couldn’t help but want to do something.”
Brown urges others to consider becoming a CASA, but said they must understand that it takes time to have an impact.
“You have to have a patient sense of urgency,” Brown said. “There is an urgency to the challenges you’ll face, but you need to be patient because nothing happens overnight.”
Ann Marie Binsner, Executive Director of CASA/Prince George’s County, said, “Anthony Brown is a CASA champion. He’s also an inspiration for others to serve.”
Binsner said, “If you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer or learning more about it, please contact me at (301) 209-0491 or go to www.pgcasa.org. Like Anthony Brown, you could make a real difference.”