Wanted: volunteers ... but mostly men.

Court-appointed special advocates, matched up with kids in foster care in order to advocate for their best interests before a judge, are helping hundreds of children on any given day across the Garden State.

But there's a huge gap between the share of youth who are boys and the share of volunteers who are men.

"Many boys in foster care lack an adult male figure who was consistently in their lives, and to listen to them," said Ed Byrne, a Middlesex County resident whose been with the local CASA chapter for the past three years.

Byrne is currently advocating for an 8-year-old boy and a 10-year-old boy who are both in out-of-home placement. The more than a dozen CASA offices in New Jersey are dedicated to serving abused and neglected children until, ideally, they are permanently placed in a home, or age out of the foster care system.

"I'm very glad that I've become involved in this effort," Byrne said. "You're trying to improve a young person's life — if you're fortunate enough to accomplish something there, then that can be extremely satisfying."

Byrne previously advocated for a teenage boy who ended up returning to a member of his birth family.

Statewide and in Middlesex County, boys make up over half of the children served by CASA volunteers. But in the past fiscal year in Middlesex County, fewer than 15% of the involved volunteers were men.

"A lot of times, for the teenagers especially, it's really helpful to have a male advocate working with them, and we oftentimes are partnering a female with them instead," said Stephanie Brown, executive director of CASA of Middlesex County.

The chapter is putting out a call for men who are able and willing to step up as advocates for children in need. All volunteers aged 21 and over are welcome, as long as a background check determines they're eligible, but the nonprofit's biggest need is the ability to provide "the presence of stable and supportive men."

"Each person gets matched with either one child or a whole sibling group if there are multiple kids in the family," Brown said. "And they'll be asked to make a commitment of at least 18 months, because on average that's how long a case lasts."

Training to become a volunteer runs for about 30 hours total. Brown said their next training class is being held in July. Classes are typically held three times per year.

"But we're always accepting applications," she said.

During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020, CASA volunteers throughout New Jersey provided advocacy to 3,717 foster children and youth.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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