By: Richard L. Smith
Jennifer, a five-year-old with autism and almost entirely nonverbal, tragically exemplifies the consequences of abuse and neglect in the family home.
Jennifer's case highlights a severe issue of educational neglect.
As a three-year-old, she was eligible for an Individualized Education Plan from the Department of Education, which could have provided essential in-home speech and behavioral therapies.
Unfortunately, these services were not utilized by her parents, leaving her significantly behind her peers developmentally.
Jennifer's story is not isolated. Over 500 children are removed from their homes annually in Passaic and Union counties due to abuse and neglect.
These children are uprooted from everything familiar to them, including their families, friends, and even personal belongings.
In these situations, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers play a vital role. CASA volunteers, trained in child advocacy and supported by CASA staff, do not need a background in child welfare.
They are committed community members who stand against abuse and neglect.
A CASA volunteer for Jennifer would advocate for her educational rights, make recommendations to the court, and ensure timely implementation of services, providing stability in a period of uncertainty.
CASA is calling for more volunteers to step forward and train in February to help children like Jennifer.
Interested individuals can attend one of the orientation sessions at CASA's office at 415 Hamburg Turnpike in Wayne.
Sessions are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on January 11, 10 a.m. on January 16, 5:30 p.m. on January 18, 10 a.m. on January 23, 5:30 p.m. on January 25, and 10 a.m. on January 30. Registration and more information are available at www.casapassaicunion.org/info-session.
This is a chance to make a profound difference in the lives of children who have faced unimaginable challenges.