When children are removed from their families because of abuse or neglect, many need someone to speak up for their best interests — and to navigate the intricate legal and social service maze toward finding a permanent home.

At all times, programs in every county across New Jersey are looking for volunteers to be the voice for these children, as a "court appointed special advocate."

Appointed by a judge, the advocates work one on one with a child or set of siblings who are living in out-of-home placement such as foster care. They learn the child's circumstances, then help them attain the services they may need, and share information and recommendations with the court.

"The judge accepts the CASA advocate's recommendations about 92% of the time," said April Aaronson, executive director for CASA of New Jersey.

CASA entities statewide are expected to serve at least 4,000 children in out-of-home placement this year. But, according to Aaronson, there are about 10,000 children that could use an advocate's help.

"Our vision is to make sure that every child who needs a CASA has one," she said. "We're always looking to recruit new advocates; we need many more. We know it's an intensive, rather long commitment, but it's very, very rewarding."

Each person who applies to become an advocate goes through a thorough screening process, including a criminal background check and child abuse registry check. In order to be sworn in by a family court judge, one must complete 36 hours of specialized training.

Applicants must also be at least 21 years old.

A CASA program exists in every New Jersey county. CASA of Middlesex County is inviting the public to an information session on Saturday, June 22 to learn more about the process and responsibilities. The hour-long event begins at 10:30 a.m. at Metuchen Public Library.

"In the last fiscal year, there were 558 children that were living in out-of-home placement due to abuse or neglect at some point," said Stephanie Brown, executive director. "CASA of Middlesex County was able to serve 109 of them. We would love to serve a much greater portion of them."

During fiscal year 2018, nearly 1,900 CASA volunteers provided services and advocacy to 3,877 children statewide.

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

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