Dani Moorad joined the CASA team as our AmeriCorps Marketing & Recruitment VISTA in September 2018. Dani graduated from Salisbury University with a BS in Marketing in 2016. Her love for non-profit service comes from her varied experience working and volunteering with PFLAG Salisbury, Maryland Capital Enterprises – Women’s Business Center, and Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services. During her most recent tenure at Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services, Dani developed a network of in-kind agricultural donors for a Holiday Wreath Giving initiative. The project design hinged on welcoming low-income families into their new homes during their first holiday season and integrated SNHS branding into low-income target neighborhoods. As the AmeriCorps Marketing & Recruitment VISTA will work to increase our capacity to served abused and neglected children by improving our marketing, recruitment and volunteer engagement.
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.”
Eighteen months after the 12-year-old girl had been released from foster care and reunited with her mother, the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services concluded it was time to close the case and end the youngster’s protective supervision.
In court, attorneys for the girl and her mom agreed. But our CASA volunteer, Kristin Collins, objected. She said at least a few more months were needed to determine the effectiveness of new family therapy and other court-ordered services.
“Let’s see what happens before a decision is made,” Kristin said, noting that the child had been in foster care for about a year after multiple allegations of physical abuse. “Let’s give it some more time.”
The judge agreed with Kristin, saying there were “many loose ends to wrap up.” In doing so, the judge made it clear that Kristin, in “speaking for the child,” was being heard as a valued member of her legal team.
“I was excited, but shocked. We won,” Kristin said. “I wanted to start doing a happy dance right there in the courtroom.”
Kristin, a former journalist now working as the communications director at a local nonprofit, has been a CASA – a Court Appointed Special Advocate – for 11 years. She has had three foster youth. Kristin is a former foster child. And that helps her connect with other foster children.
“I let them know that I was where they were,” said Kristin. “I let them know that they are not alone.”
“I want them to know that even if their lives are not perfect, they can be successful through hard work and a positive attitude,” said Kristin, who was adopted as a baby into “a safe and loving home” after being born to an unwed mother.
“After much self-reflection, I realize that being a CASA is my life mission after the way I came into this world,” said Kristin, who has earned a reputation as a thorough and fact-driven child advocate who produces well-written and detailed court reports.
“Kristin is never afraid of asking the question that needs to be asked,” said Jeanmarie Graves, her CASA supervisor. “She’s amazing at putting all the information together to provide the court a full and accurate report that it can rely on.”
Kristin’s strategy is simple. With regular visits, she monitors the child’s well-being while interviewing all those involved – foster parents, biological parents, social workers, teachers and therapists. She then recommends to the court what’s best for the child.
“I’m here for them,” she said.
Kristin has proved to be a multi-faceted asset at CASA/Prince George’s County. Besides serving as a CASA, she helps in the writing of press releases and has attended events to help recruit volunteers. Recently, she lent her hand in writing a resume for a fellow CASA’s youth.
“She really created a masterpiece,” Jeanmarie said. “This youth now has an impressive and professional resume to present to potential employers.”
Kristin may help other youth write their resumes, too.
“I want to do whatever I can to help,” she said.
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.”
At 83, Charles French figured he still had plenty to give.
So, this Navy veteran, ex-police officer, retired federal investigator and former golf instructor began a new adventure after the death of his wife of 62 years, Sylvia, “the love of my life.” He became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
“I needed something to do, and knew I could do this,” Charles said. “I’ve always helped children, going back to when I was a police officer” in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s, and later as a member of Big Brothers and as a coach with a youth golf program.
Based on his experiences, Charles knows where foster children are coming from and where they need to go.
“When I was on the street as a police officer, I was a member of the youth division,” Charles said. “I assisted Social Services in the removal of abused and neglected children from their biological parents. I listened to these children. They need help.”
With five children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren, Charles knows children need “good role models. Boys need good male role models.”
Charles is helping CASA/Prince George’s County recruit more male CASAs, a top goal since volunteers are now overwhelmingly women. He is a founding member of “Men 4 CASA”, a group dedicated to bridging the gap.
“We need more men,” Charles said. “A lot of them are looking for something to do, and they can do this – if they can make a commitment to help a child.”
Charles preaches a simple mantra.
“I must aspire.”
Charles has aspired and succeeded on many fronts, including as a teaching golf pro for 19 years. His students included Vice President Joe Biden. Afterward, Charles received a vice presidential thank-you note for helping straighten Biden’s drive.
At CASA/Prince George’s County, Charles isn’t looking for thank you notes. He’s looking to make a difference.
“I understand young people. A lot of them won’t talk to you because they don’t trust you. Everyone tells them what to do,” he said. “Somebody needs to listen to them. I listen.”
How do you spend your lunch hour?
Twice a week, Crystal Ruiz spends hers helping America’s most vulnerable boys and girls.
She does it as a volunteer at Court Appointed Special Advocate/Prince George’s County, assisting the non-profit with clerical chores as it recruits, trains and supervises CASA volunteers for foster children.
“I want to help foster children, and this allows me to help a couple of hours a week,” says Crystal, who first learned about the hard times of foster children from her grandfather who grew up as one.
“My grandfather was in a number of foster homes,” she said. “Foster children need someone to represent them, to speak for them, and that’s what CASA volunteers do.”
Crystal can identify with foster children for another and even more personal reason. She, like them, was not raised by her biological parents. Like them, her mom and dad, for a variety of reasons, were unable to do it. So, she was raised instead by her grandparents who eventually adopted her and her brother.
Growing up, Crystal said, she knew she was different from other children.
“They had a mom and dad to go home to after school. I didn’t,” she said. “When I cried at night, I would wonder where my mom and dad were. It took me a long time to realize that my grandparents were my ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’”
Crystal became familiar with CASA/Prince George’s County as a neighbor. Its headquarters is in the same building where she works as a clerk at Purple Line Transit Constructors, a joint venture by three firms that is building a 16-mile rail line linking the Maryland suburbs of Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.
To learn more about CASA, she checked it out online. Then, she contacted Kara Bundy, CASA’s Deputy Director, and asked if she could volunteer. “Kara said ‘yes,’ and I went to work,” Crystal said.
“Purple Line is on the second floor. CASA is on the fourth floor. So, I just need to walk two floors to go to my volunteer job,” Crystal said. “I think this is better use of my time than having lunch and the stairs give me some exercise.”
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.