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May 16, 1986 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-05-16

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appropriateness of the placement.
The system of rubber stamping
which ultimately affected Shaun's
fate was, and is, still followed by most
court systems today," says Zousmer.
Filling cracks in the judicial sys-
tem for children was NCJW's motiva-
tion to establish its CASA network
eight years ago.
"By serving as advocates for chil-
dren, and often for their parents,
CASAs help court personnel stay on
top of issues which might make the
difference between numerous delays
and the speedier resolution of a case,"
says Penny Blumenstein, co-
chairperson of Children and Youth
Services. Our volunteers act as the
`eyes and ears' of the court."
"'What a CASA does," explains
Blumenstein, is act as an indepen-
dent assessor. She is given legal per-
mission by the judge to conduct
thorough inquiries into the child's
situation. A CASA is not required to
be a board-certified professional. She
has full access to court files and is
encouraged to pursue interviews with
parents, friends, clergy, school per-
sonnel, etc. to learn as maw of the
dynamics affecting the proposed
placement as possible. CASAs always
work by the buddy system. This ar-
rangement provides for our members'
safety and also gives the two volun-
teers an opportunity to discuss or con-
trast their findingS."
In foster care cases, the CASA is
invited to participate after a child has
been removed from his natural home
for reasons of abuse, neglect or other

severe problems. In guardianship
cases, the CASA is contacted once the
judge receives a petition.
The Legal Guardianship Pro-
gram is chaired by NCJW members
Marilyn Levine and Marcia Aaron,
who utilize the expertise of the CASA
program's 40 active volunteers.
We have between ten and 14
days to act on a judge's request in an-
ticipation of a scheduled hearing,"
says Aaron. Some studies could be
started, for example, on a Monday,
and concluded that Thursday or Fri-
day. More often than not, however,
there are delays and new resources to
check. The duration of our involve-
ment in a case depends on the in-
tricacies of the family's situation and
on the judge."
Estimating that about six new
cases are brought to the attention of
CASA volunteers each week, Aaron
adds, "It's possible that a volunteer's
cases do overlap. Many of the earlier
cases we undertook last year are com-
ing up for review now." Those follow-
ups might be juggled with new as-
signments. NCJW has processed 40
guardianship cases since November.
Marilyn Levine is quick to point
out that regardless of what a CASA
suggests in a written recommenda-
tion, it is the judge's final decision
which closes or continues a case.
"Usually, the CASA's involve-
ment is completed once a child is
either adopted, returned to his
natural home, or placed with a guard-
ian," she says. But it's not so cut and
dry. Relationships form between the

volunteers and the client families.
You might have helped the family ob-
tain new insurance for the child, or
transferred school records, or helped
point them in the direction of a coun-
seling service which could provide the
family or child with a support sys-
For that reason, the Probate,
Court established a message center
courthouse for clients to leave mes-
sages for their assigned CASA volun-
That willingness to facilitate the
activities of the CASA program has
characterized the relationship be-
tween NCJW and the court. It was the
Probate Court's Concept Group which
set the wheels of the Guardianship
program in motion last year, based on
its relationship with NCJW's CASA
volunteers in other areas.
When Greater Detroit Section
applied for a national grant from the
Department of Health and Human
Services eight years ago to begin
CASA, their application was rejected.
But the members organized a com-
pletely volunteer network with the
full cooperation of the Probate Court.
To this day, NCJW is the only inde-
pendent organization to staff a CASA
program in the United States without'
external financial assistance.
Currently, nearly 200 CASA pro-
grams exist nationwide, with ten in
Michigan. Lisa Kaichen, director of
MICASA (Michigan Association of
Court Appointed Special Advocates)
says, If I were a child, I would want
to know that there was one person

without a crowded caseload who could
look after my interests . . . someone
who could understand that a child's
sense of time is so different from an
adult's. That crucial element of time
is just as important to a small child as
it is to a teenager."
Marilyn Levine offers an exam-
"One recent case we participated
in dealt with a 16-year-old girl and
her 15-year-old brother who had lost
both parents. The boy's legal guard-
ian was a pleasant, responsible 23-
year-old man. The brother wanted his
sister to live with them."
A busy social worker might not
have found a problem with such a
placement, "but there were aspects of
the case that bothered the CASA vol-
unteers, and some disturbing issues to
examine," Levine recalls. We felt
there were the questions of matura-
tion and role modeling to consider. At
that stage in her development, was a
23-year-old male the best guardian
for a teenage girl?"
After reading the court report on
the case, the team of CASA volun-
teers started at square one. They con-
tacted the girl's school principal and
set up an appointment to interview
the girl. They learned that her tem-
porary home was not satisfactory, and
realized expediency was an issue. The
principal steered them to a church the
girl had regularly attended that year.
"What we learned," says Aaron,
"was that several member families of
the church had expressed a desire to

Continued on next page



William Puglian o


Looking at future cases are Probate Court judges John O'Brien, Norman Barnard and
Eugene Moore, and standing, attorney Hugh Dean, supervisor Ray Sharp and CASA
volunteers Marilyn Levine, Ann Zousmer and Penny Blumenstein.

The welfare of youngsters
being moved from
troubled homes
is the focus
of NCJW volunteers

Penny Blumenstein and Ann Zousmer check the court records.

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