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Delaware Docket Newsletter

FAMILY COURT’S COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATE PROGRAM CELEBRATES 25 YEARS OF SERVICE

     In April 1981, Family Court of the State of Delaware, in collaboration with the Junior League of Wilmington and the National Council of Jewish Women (Wilmington Chapter), started a pilot program in New Castle County to address the needs of Delaware’s abused and neglected children who appeared in the Court unrepresented. The pilot program originally was called the “Guardian ad Litem” program, and 25 volunteers represented the abused, neglected and dependent children appearing before the Court. Today, the program not only represents the abused and neglected children but assists parents in private custody cases and now is called the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program or CASA. The CASA volunteers have a passion for working with children and the children’s families. When determining whether to return a child back to his or her family or to move the child to foster care or an adoptive home, the Family Court Judges depend on the CASAs for gathering data and making recommendations.

     Since Loretta Deshields became the Statewide Director of the CASA program in 2005, over 500 children have been served. There is a staff of 10 coordinators (five in New Castle County, two in Kent County, two in Sussex County, and one who divides her time in Kent and Sussex Counties), and one administrative assistant. In addition, there are six attorneys and 10 Family Court Judges who participate in the CASA program on a regular basis.

     The program continues to grow with 30 new CASA Volunteers trained and sworn in since August 2005, and has increased diversity of its staff and volunteers, allowing it to maintain its prestigious position in the membership of the National Court Appointed Special Advocates. This brings the total number of CASA volunteers to 200.

     This year, CASA volunteer Thomas Duffy Sr. was the recipient of the Gannett Foundation’s Jefferson Award. This award is presented annually to an individual who has made a remarkable positive difference in society.


For further information, contact Loretta DeShields

     “Having the presence of a CASA in a dependency/neglect case is invaluable. Not only is the information presented in the courtroom generally objective and reliable, but the CASA sometimes uncovers important facts not known by the Division of Family Services, including “lost” fathers and identifying potential relative placements. When a CASA is assigned to a case, there can be more pressure on a social worker to do a conscientious and thorough job. Maybe most important for the older children is that they become aware that they have their own advocate in the process and that the judge is eager to hear their comments and concerns. Sometimes when social workers and foster homes and schools change, the CASA is the one consistent adult in the child’s life throughout the foster care process. I am so grateful for their dedication and commitment to our children.”
   - Judge Barbara D. Crowell, New Castle County

     “I find that the CASA’s benefit dependency/neglect proceedings in many different ways. It is significant to me that they often come from a different professional background than others in the courtroom and are unaffected by some of the biases which, at times, affect those who spend their careers in the foster care field. They are a refreshing presence in the courtroom.”
    - Judge Peter B. Jones, Sussex County

     “The CASA program is very important to Family Court and the work we do in child welfare. The CASA volunteer brings a different perspective as their only motive is the best interest of the child, uncolored by a personal desire for placement. As a Court, we owe a great debt to our CASA volunteers who give so unselfishly of their most valuable asset – their time.”
   - Judge Kenneth M. Millman, Sussex County

     “Too many of our foster care children lack a parent with both the willingness and the ability to properly address the multitude of issues facing their kids. The CASA fills this critical role by identifying the childrens’ needs and becoming the advocate for the delivery of services needed to address those needs. The CASA fills the void created by the lack of a protective parent by providing the child with a trustworthy adult upon whom he or she may rely, an adult with neither personal agenda nor design other than what is best for the child.”
   - Judge Robert B. Coonin, New Castle County

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