Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I am for the child

I am for the child.

Last year, National CASA rolled out an exciting new awareness campaign, I am for the child. Born out of the passion, concerns and commitment of many CASA stakeholders, the goal of the campaign is to create a movement of people who will take action and set things right.

At National CASA and throughout CASA's local programs, we believe the plight of children in foster care and the family court system is one of the biggest human rights questions in our country.

A child with a CASA volunteer is half as likely to languish in foster care, and that much more likely to find a safe, permanent home. Today 240,000 kids have a CASA volunteer. But 400,000 more are waiting.

"Now is the time to shout our message from the rooftops," says Michael Piraino, CEO of National CASA. "Time to create a nationwide network. To fight for the rights of foster children and youth, building a critical mass of support until every one of the waiting foster kids has a CASA volunteer standing with them.

Join us and speak out on behalf of these children's rights. I am for the child. We believe you are, too.

CASA Volunteer Spotlight: When Life's Paths Cross

CASA Volunteer Spotlight:

When Life's Paths Cross

"My husband Tony and I had a difficult time conceiving children," began CASA volunteer Joyce Tesoriero. "As we did the soul searching that inevitable accompanies infertility, we realized that what was important to us was having a family and having children in our lives. We trained to become foster parents because we realized how many children there are who are not babies anymore but still in dire need of parents and a loving home. Shortly after we completed our training to become foster parents, we were surprised to find out that we were expecting a child."

Living in Maryland at the time, the Tesorieros welcomed foster children into their home for the first time when Jessie was 4 years old. It was an emergency placement of a sibling group that was supposed to include two children. "But when they appeared at our door, there were three," recalls Tesoriero. "The children's mother had left them alone for several days, putting the eleven year old in charge of his 5-year-old sister and 3-year-old brother."

These children eventually transitioned to a home closer to their biological family since the goal was to reunite them with their biological mother. The Tesoriero's next placement was a 15-year-old boy. "He remained with us throughout high school, is now in his mid-30s and is an important member of our family," she said. "We are very proud of him. He suffered from a very difficult family environment in his early years and had lived in many different homes with many different relatives, but he was still able to turn his life around."

Over the years the Tesorieros have had several other teens living in their home, and they adopted a teen-age girl who had suffered severe abuse. "Then, 17 years ago we had twin baby boys placed with us. David and Daniel were supposed to be reunified with their birth parents, but when this couldn't happen, we were able to adopt them," Tesoriero says. Today those babies will be high school seniors next fall, and the Tesorieros cannot imagine their lives or their family without them.

As someone who has experienced being a biological parent, a foster parent, and an adoptive parent herself, Tesoriero calls upon her unique set of experiences as she approaches each new case.

"As a child moves from one foster home to another or from a foster home to a residential facility and the workers change, the CASA stays with the child and can be one of the few consistent people in the child's life," says Tesoriero. "A CASA can really focus on the needs of the child and spend time with a child when an overworked case worker would not be able to devote that much time to one case." 

As she enjoys her third year as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and looks back on her rewarding experiences as a foster mom, Tesoriero is in the perfect position to give advice to anyone considering getting involved in the foster care program.

"Every child deserves to be loved and supported," she said. "Children born or raised with abuse and neglect often lack these basic entitlements. Caring foster parents and CASA volunteers can help reshape the world for a child. There is no greater gift we can give than changing the course of a child's life for the better."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Funding for Vital Services to Abused and Neglected Children at Risk

The Administration's budget for the fiscal year beginning this October recommends elimination of funding for the four programs in the Victims of Child Abuse Act, including CASA for children.

It is critical that congressional offices keep hearing from CASA supporters. Please take a moment to contact your congressional representatives and urge them to help restore CASA funding. You can reach your senators and representatives from

Report Abuse: New Hotline

The Michigan Department of Human Services recently launched a new statewide program for reporting abuse and neglect complaints involving both children and adults.

One toll-free number, 1-855-444-3911, is available to everyone, including mandatory reporters and the general public. The number is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week (including holidays) by trained staff.

Complaints involving child abuse or neglect receive an immediate decision on investigation, no matter the time of day or night, before being directly referred to county Child Protective Services staff.

CASA Volunteer Spotlight: From Babies To College Students

During her initial CASA training, Lea W.’s class was discussing a current case that by all accounts was heart-wrenching and one of the more complicated cases in the program. Little did Lea know it at the time, but that case would soon become her introduction to the complex, but rewarding work of a CASA.

“The mom was severely cognitively impaired and couldn’t understand what was going on,” Lea explained. “I had to figure out a way to earn her trust and to explain to her in a way she would understand how she could keep her family together, that we were all just trying to help."

Abuse and neglect are the dark side of life CASAS deal with and four children ages 4 to 14 were experiencing this first-hand. After working with the family for weeks, the case was about to close. Lea was with some of the children on what was expected to be their last interaction when one of the children offered some new information that sent off warning bells in Lea. Coupled with the behavioral changes she noticed in one of the children, Lea was concerned something new was going on. Her knowledge of the children and her ability to get them to open up to her changed the course of their lives. It also changed what happened in court. Lea presented the new information in court, a positive solution was brokered and, eventually, the case was closed.

"It was then that I said, 'This is why I'm doing this.' Without a CASA, the abuse would have continued to happen and nobody would have understood how or why," Lea continued.

During this case, Lea learned she was pregnant and, due to complications, was put on bed-rest as the case was ending. Now the mom of a happy, healthy baby boy, she is still committed to giving what spare time she can make available to the CASA program. Recently, she was asked to take on the case of a youth who was a freshman in college and in need of a mentor. Lea’s personality, schedule and proficiency in researching doctors, groups and other resources made her a perfect choice for the assignment.

"It was such a change to go from
a situation where
you're scared to death of what will happen to a child
to a situation where you can say,
'It's ok. They just need a little

“Sometimes I’m like a sister, sometimes I’m like a mom,” she explained. “This is awesome."

Though she’s in college and has other adults in her life, Lea says her youth welcomes her guidance. “She just says to me, ‘You’re one more mentor to help me get to where I need to be. That can never hurt.”’

Rockin’ The CASA - Part Perspiration, Part Inspiration and a Whole Lotta Fun!

It still seems like yesterday when over 200 CASA supporters came together for a night of education, perspiration & inspiration, raising just over $40,000 for the CASA program. The unseasonably warm weather, the DJ’s disco grooves and the rush to bid on that Great Harvest Bread Basket I wanted in the silent auction contributed to a little perspiration, but neither I nor the guests let that dampen our spirits!

Although Lady Luck eluded me at the casino, I felt extremely lucky to be part of such an amazing group of people. Our event committee (Wendy, Julie, Linda, Julie, Jade, Stacie, Gina, Michele, Abby, Holly, Nancy & Janet) put together a fun and well-organized party and - once again - our community joined us in celebration and support of our kids and CASA volunteers.

I think my favorite moment of the evening was when CASA Coordinator, Gini Harmon, simply and eloquently spoke about how the Cinderella Fund helps provide foster kids with the most basic, simple things most of us take for granted. Like a bed. Or a pair of boots. Your generosity during Raise The Paddle will help us meet those needs for many of our children.

Thank you for helping us continue to put a qualified, compassionate adult into the life of an abused or neglected foster child to fight for and protect the child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect, and to learn and grow in a loving family.

Cheri Dunn
Executive Director
Friends of CASA

P.S. More photos on Facebook or our website,

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We're sad to announce that Marianne Clauw has resigned as Executive Director of Friends of CASA of Washtenaw County, effective November 4th. We thank her for her years of dedicated service and leadership and wish her all the best in her future endeavors!

Cheri Dunn and Julie Dunbar will be co-directors on an interim basis, until a new permanent director is appointed.

Thank you for all your hard work, Marianne! You will be missed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

November is National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, a time to raise awareness about the adoption of children and youth from foster care. This year's initiative focuses on building capacity of adoption professionals to recruit and retain parents for the 107,000 children and youth waiting for permanent families in the U.S. foster care system.

Every November, a Presidential Proclamation launches activities and celebrations to help build awareness of adoption throughout the nation. Thousands of community organizations arrange and host programs, events, and activities to share positive adoption stories, challenge the myths, and draw attention to the thousands of children in foster care who are waiting for permanent families.

To find out more about National Adoption Month please visit:

Save the Date: Rockin’ the CASA is March 24, 2012

We’ve rocked to country music, jived with Motown, and partied Caribbean style, and one thing remains the same. This party puts the fun back into fun-draiser.

So get ready for big hair, shoulder pads, and silky shirts at the Rockin’ the CASA DISCO – dinner, auction, dance, and casino.

We are recruiting volunteers to join the following event committees:

- Auction, Decorations,

- Marketing/Graphics,

- Entertainment,

- Food & Beverages,

- Sponsorships, and

- Party Hosts (bring friends)

If you are interested in being part of one of our committees please contact Marianne at

Five Steps Toward Improving the Foster Care System

(Adapted from The Connection Summer 2011, National CASA Association, authored by Charles Lerner)

1. Keep children with their families whenever possible. Easier said than done, but hundreds of thousands of young people are away from their families for causes that are not being adequately addressed in our society. They include poverty, marginalization and resulting factors such as substance abuse and mental illness. Until we more successfully address social conditions that are hurtful to all of us, children will be living out the consequences.

2. Be compassionate with parents. What does it take for you to accept help from others? Most of us would agree that we must trust someone before we are able to accept their help. Change takes time, and delays are not always due to a lack of desire. Our biases can inhibit our empathy for parents and the challenges they face, but it helps to think of the difficulties we ourselves face when trying to make changes in our own lives.

3. Research existing relationships to get children out of foster care as quickly as possible. We want children to return to their families as soon as possible. If they cannot return home, we want to move them out of limbo and into relational, physical and legal permanency. In other words, we want them to have someone they can count on, a place to call home and people they can claim—and who claim them—as family. Experience shows us that people who are known to our children are often the people who will provide them with permanency.

4. Meet children where they are. Some young people are angry with their parents and the world in general. They have not been protected and cared for the way children are entitled to be. That is why taking a “no-fault” approach is essential. Most youth experience sadness, despair and anger. Youth express these emotions through tantrums, school difficulties, running away, getting involved with gangs or using drugs. These are fairly normative responses to what they have gone through. Their behaviors may leave us feeling frustrated and hopeless about their futures. But we must maintain hope—because many of our children have lost it.

5. Make decisions and implement them as though the child were a member of your own family. Time does not move quickly for children when they are away from their families and living in a state of uncertainty. High caseloads and the bureaucracy of the system make it difficult to make things happen as quickly as we would hope. We will not always be able to address the needs of the children we serve as quickly as we want. That is why CASA programs are critical and influential assets in the child welfare system. Magical things happen for children when someone gives them a voice.