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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, January 13, 2017

Northampton County Has No CASA Program

Throughout the state, there are Court Appointed Special Advocates who seek the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect. I'm unaware whether such advocates exist in NorCo, but am about to find out. I know there is no local program, though one exists in Lehigh. If you'd like be become a CASA, you can apply here.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is no CASA program in Northampton County. Children in placement are and have been for at least 25 been represented in court by a Guardian ad Litem, a lawyer who who meets with the children, represents them at all hearings, advocates for them at and between hearings, and whom they can contact as they wish for whatever might come up. At juvenile court hearings, the best interests of the children are represented by C and Y, the parents, the Guardian ad Litem, the hearing officer, and the judge, who all receive all the same information about school and health and behavior and therapy progress and relationships from the individuals and agencies working with the children, and sometimes by foster parents go to the hearings and express their opinions as to the best interests of the children. Outside of hearings, anyone can make a complaint and ask for a review or investigation by the state office that licenses and inspects foster homes, foster care agencies, and C and Y offices. Now, if you believe all these people aren't enough and that it takes every individual in the village to raise a child, if you think that volunteers are equipped to deal with matters better than licensed attorneys to represent the children at legal hearings, if you think there aren't already enough people advocating for the best interests of the children, then you can advocate for a CASA program. IMO, CASA programs are fluff and bureaucracy and a way to throw money where someone thinks there could be a problem. CASA volunteers often have their own problems and political agendas that make them a liability. But, hey, if you want it, ask for it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Frankly, my knowledge of dependency is very limited. I was never involved in it in any capacity, even when I was practicing. I would hesitate to trash guardians ad litem, attorneys appointed by the judges. I am sure their legal knowledge helps very much. But are they there bc they care about the child or is it the paycheck? I know enough about our legal system to know that it often fails, and largely bc of officials more interested in pushing cases through than in actually doing their jobs. It can often be like a Dickens'novel.

I also know that part of your comment is bullshit. You say anyone can file a complaint. Dependency hearing are private, and so is the knowledge of what goes on there. So not anyone can file a complaint.

Earlier in the week, as news about the Sara Packer case was swirling about, I listened to an NPR broadcast about Noel Anaya, a young man who has just been fostered out of the system. He does not have a single picture of himself with his five siblings. He noted that at his final hearing, the judge involved was unable even to pronounce his name correctly. He called that a "little thing," but one of many reminders that, to them, he is just a number.

Below is a link to his story. I feel, perhaps incorrectly, that a trained CASA might slow a judge down or slow the system down, but might also help the children.

http://kuow.org/post/after-20-years-young-man-leaves-foster-care-his-own-terms

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bernie, anyone can make a complaint. Juvenile court hearings are most often closed, as you correctly state, but it has happened that people write letters directly to the judge they know is hearing the case or to the county President Judge. If you do that, you don't get invited to the court hearing, but the judges will take a look at the letter and hand it off to someone to look into, keeping in mind that judges are elected officials, so they owe something to the voters that elected them. Has a judge ever called C and Y and said, hey, I got this letter - what's going on here? or hey, this person showed up in motions court and went on about this problem they have with C and Y? But if a foster kid is not getting visits with his family as the court ordered or if bad things are happening that are not being addressed or if kids are not getting the help they need for this or that, anyone can call to make a complaint. You call the state child abuse hotline. If your complaint is about C and Y, the information is sent to the state office to look into it and find out what is going on and if rules are being broken. I think there is also some state-wide review board that is supposed to exist. And there is a state legislature oversight committee for the DPW and the branch that includes C and Y. Another way to make a complaint about C and Y not doing something they should is to call the county's top elected official who is ultimately responsible for the hiring of everyone who works at C and Y or gets paid by C and Y. You could make a report to the police if you are reporting a crime. If you are reporting corruption, you can report to the attorney general for the state (don't they have an office in Allentown?) or the county controller, an independent local elected official with the power to investigate money and rules and things. So, you're right that you can't go to the hearing, but it's not bullshit to say there are quite a few different reasonable ways to address a problem or a concern, aside from complaints to newspapers or your blog, most of them ways that protect an individual's privacy where they have a right to it. Are there horror stories? Yes, including those about caseworkers getting killed or assaulted by people they work with. People are people, and there is no class of people that are immune from being people. We all have our own crap. A lot or a little or in the middle. Some people have bad crap. Some people have worse crap. It is the extremely rare person that does what Packer did. You want some statistics? Call the abuse hotline or go to their website and ask about their annual statistics and how they are broken down, or call the governor's office, or call your state rep. There is a lot of information out there about what happens and how it is supposed to be taken care of.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am somewhat aware of the data as I do regularly check and have noted it here before. I know that dependency is becoming an issue in more affluent families, thanks to the heroin epidemic. Obviously, the system is set up to help children. Just as obviously, I think all people go into it with good intentions. But the system failed Grace Packer. It failed Noel. It could only help to review whether improvements can be made. Whether a CASA would help I am too poorly informed to say. But that needs to be explored.

Why did the system fail Grace? She was taken from her birth family against their will over allegations of sexual and other abuse by extended family members. OK. I get that. Then she was sexually abused by her adopting father. That I don't get. Then she was allowed to remain with her adopting mother. That I don't get. Then she was thrown into a new situation where she was sexually abused by the new boyfriend of the adopting mother. Very clearly, some things were missed.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
More like a horror story or a nightmare than any Dickens novel! The more people the more confusing and the ones claiming ignorance of understanding party of the matter should be held accountable too!

This subject is of the most valuable asset that god gives to this earth and to all party's that may become involved.

Anonymous said...

"This subject is of the most valuable asset that God gives to this earth and to all party's that may become involved."

My belief is similar to yours and I thank you for so nicely putting it into words!
MBJ

Anonymous said...

I believe the county once had or tried to have a CASA program. It was suggested by one of the Human Services Directors, I don't know which one. It was hammered down by the courts and the attorneys'. The judge at the time wanted no part of it. The CYF administration also saw it as an intrusion on their turf and pushed hard against it.

Anonymous said...

Northampton County dependency is in need of serious oversight from the regional office of DHS and the AOPC. But since all proceedings are closed, how could anyone of repute ever provide specifics? I'm very glad you've picked up this topic. AOPC does compile statistics as to how many cases go to hearing and how many hearings result in etc.,etc. Thats a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4118630/Pennsylvania-woman-charged-girls-death-fostered-30-kids.html

International news. Who is watching the watchers of little children in the care of the Government.

Anonymous said...

It may sound extremely harsh, but the more government cares about these kids the worse off they are.

They go from disorganized abuse and neglect to government organized abuse. As with crime itself all government does is organized it.

If government really worked it would concentrate on supporting the child's family and the community, it doesn't.

And now that and industry and bureaucracy has built itself around the problem, things are not likely to change for these kids.... this is as good as it gets.

Anonymous said...

Yeah government sucks. anarchy is great.

Anonymous said...

Im sorry but how was grace abused by organized government? I don not understand

Bernie O'Hare said...

She spent a lifetime being abused as a result of our foster system of justice. She was ripped awaty from her own family by the government, ostensibly to protect her from sexual predators in her extended family. Then the government gave her to a mother who never wanted her and an adpting father who sexually abused her. Even after that, the government allowed her to stay with an adopting mother who picked up a boyfriend who picked up where the g=boyfriend left off, and she eventually was raped and murdered. The government failed Grace, as did we all.

Anonymous said...

Respectfully, how did the system fail Grace? And which system? Was it C and Y that took her from an abusive family? Was it the foster care company thst took care of her and her brother in the following years? Was it the private adoption agency that arranged the adoption? Was it the adoption trial judge who approved it? Kids who are adopted dont get a CASA, so is that the failure? Maybe she should have had a casa until she was 18 or 21 and that was the failure? Or 36? Or 62? Of full SS retirement age? Why wasnt it the police who arrested the adopting father for abusd who didnt arrest the adpting mother? Or the forensic interviewer at the child advocacy center? Or thr cac investigative team? Or the nurse who examined her (because the system wont let a doctor touch her, only a woman and only a nurse)? Why wasnt it the DAs fault who prosecuted the adopting dad? Does the DAs office have a child advocate, because maybe there was the failure? I think it was the judges fault from the criminsl trial and the jury for the adopting dad and they failed. But why not the megans law sex abuser assessment board? Why didnt ghey get the details out of the adopting dad? Or the prison guards or prison counselors? Why didnt the prison warden take any interest in Grace? The warden failed. Or the adopting dad's parole officed when he got out or his sex abuser counselors or polygraph operator or the person who operated the penismograph machine (yes, thats a thing)?

Bernie O'Hare said...

You pretty much have defeated yourself, so I have no need to respond. I answered your question.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, Im sorry if you thought I was being rude or disrespectful to you. Grace had a hard and sad life that came to a horrible tragic end. But isnt it too easy to blame an unwieldly amorphous government system or just as easy to blame everyone? I didnt have anything to do with it, and neither did you. But where will the search for a culpable culprit take us? To the ridiculousness of blaming a school bus driver or Joe Paturno? Sara Packer is responsible. And her boyfriend. She might not have been a risk or a threat of killing when she worked in Northampton County, but people change a demands on them change and mental health problems emerge. I dont think it is healthy or useful to search for a scapegoat that satisfies a consensus opinion. And it dilutes the responsibility of Sara Packer and her boyfriend. Yes, investigate what legitimately needs to be investigated, but as a a community be careful about going off the deep end into hysteria.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are, among other things, completely off topic.

Anonymous said...

5:10PM
"Yeah government sucks. anarchy is great."

Aside from this being a false dichotomy, Bernie's comment at 2:47am perfectly explains how there is little difference between the two here.

Anonymous said...

Whether a casa would help I am too poorly informed to say. At 1/13 1157. No it would not. If Lehigh County DA investigated the adopting dad, the incident happened in Lehigh County. Assume they lived in Lehigh County at the time. Doesnt Lehigh County have CASA program? That's where it would have mattered if that's where they lived, not Norco. Kids get a casa when theyre involved in juvenile court. Adopted kids dont get a casa after theyre adopted and no longer going to court. When the family lived in Leco were they involved in juvenile court and did Grace have a casa there? And then ask what were the circumstances when the juvenile court case closed.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lehigh does have a CASA program.

Anonymous said...

You can thank your pals the judges for no program in Northampton County.

Anonymous said...

Because it exists elsewhere doesn't prove its value. Perhaps the judges did Norco a big favor.

Jennifer DeBalko said...

I am the PA CASA Executive Director and it is wonderful to see such a passionate discussion about the CASA program. Currently there are 19 local CASA programs serving 24 of Pennsylvania's counties. A list of local programs can be found at pacasa.org. CASA volunteers are asked to make a significant commitment to the case (18-24 months) which can make them the most consistent person in a child's life as they move through the foster care system. From a child's perspective, having an adult they can trust and who visits regularly through this frightening time is invaluable. The majority of CASA volunteers are only assigned to 1 case. This gives the CASA volunteer time to spend with the child that other professionals such as caseworkers and GALs don't have because of their high caseloads. CASAs work with caseworkers, GALs and other professionals in the case. No one person or program is the solution for children in the child welfare system. However, the CASA program can provide valuable input as the eyes and ears of the court. CASA volunteers go through a rigorous screening process, including various background checks, interviews and training courses. Not everyone is accepted to the program. If anyone would like to discuss the CASA program further I can be reached at jdebalko@pacasa.org or 717-713-8285.