West Milford residents take oath as Court Appointed Special Advocates

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  • Submitted photos West Milford resident Denise von Wilke stands with Judge Imre Karaszegi, Jr., after becoming a sworn Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer on Nov. 26 at the Passaic County Courthouse in Paterson.

  • West Milford resident Amy Antonucci shakes the hand of Judge Imre Karaszegi, Jr., at the Passaic County Court Appointed Special Advocates swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 11 at the Passaic County Courthouse in Paterson.

WEST MILFORD – In the past month, two township residents and a Ringwood resident swore an oath before a judge to become advocates for Passaic County children in foster care, according to a press release from the county.

On Nov. 26, Denise von Wilke of West Milford stood before Passaic County Family Court Judge Imre Karaszegi, Jr. and swore to speak up for the best interests of children in foster care, officially becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer.

Amy Antonucci, also of West Milford, and Torrence Burrowes of Ringwood took on the same role as Court Appointed Special Advocates at their swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 11, the release said.

The three new Passaic County CASA volunteer advocates will each be assigned to a child or group of siblings who were removed from a home in Passaic County due to parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment, according to the release.

Each CASA volunteer will spend time with the child or children, learn about their individual needs, and advocate for those needs through the Passaic County Family Court. In short, the role of a CASA volunteer boils down to speaking up for whatever is in the best interest of the child/children, the release said.

Last year, there were 524 children, from newborns to teenagers, who were in the foster care system in Passaic County, according to the release.

These children were separated from family, community, school, and everything familiar, and placed into the unfamiliar, confusing child welfare system.

With a CASA volunteer by their side, children in foster care are guaranteed a consistent adult to help them navigate foster care and advocate for their needs, according to the release.

Out of those 524 children, however, only 250 were assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate, due to a limited number of volunteers, the release said.

In particular, Passaic County CASA is in need of more volunteers from the northern part of Passaic County: West Milford, Ringwood, Wanaque, and Bloomingdale, according to the release.

Michelle Schaefer is one of the few volunteer advocates from West Milford. Schaefer became a sworn Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer in 2014.

“Volunteering as a CASA can make a profound impact in the life of a child, helping to ensure that that child finds a safe, permanent, loving home and receives needed services,” Schaefer said. “Sadly, there are children in foster care in West Milford who do not have CASAs to advocate for them because Passaic County CASA does not have enough volunteers to serve these children. It is so important for West Milford residents to provide a voice for these children who live right here in their community.”

CASA volunteers are community members from all backgrounds. Volunteers do not need any specific training, or education to become a CASA; all training and resources are provided through 36 hours of pre-service training and continuing education, the release said.

Starting at the end of January, Passaic County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) will begin to train additional community members to become CASA volunteers.

To learn more about volunteering with Passaic County CASA and the training program, attend an upcoming volunteer information session this January. The dates are: Thursday, Jan. 3, at 6 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 5, at 10 a.m., and Monday, Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. All volunteer information session are held at the Passaic County CASA office, located at 415 Hamburg Turnpike, Suite B1, in Wayne.

For more information or questions, please contact Jessica Mickley, Director of Outreach and Training, at 973-832-4002 or at jessica@passaiccountycasa.org.

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