Jennifer Fuss, far left, program coordinator for CASA, and… (Submitted Photo )
Denise Courbron raised her children, and also adopted two infants from Latin America.
Now, she'll be taking care of another child.
Last week, in a ceremony in Westminster, Courbron and three other Carroll County residents were sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers.
Court Hearing Master Kathryn Brewer-Pool gave the oath, and congratulated Courbron — as well as Westminster residents Tyler McAuliffe and Katie DuLaney and Joseph Meisner, of Sykesville — on joining the program that provides special services to foster children.
One other county resident, Doug Drake, of Hampstead, was sworn in February, and has now begun working as a CASA volunteer.
"Children are important to me," said Courbron, an Eldersburg resident. "It's a passion for me to do whatever I can to change the direction of a child's life.
"I'm in a good position to use the skills I have on behalf of someone else," she said. "This is an awesome program, and I think we will make a difference."
The CASA program, known in this area as Voices for Children of Carroll County, welcomes volunteers whose watchful eyes and kind hearts can make a difference in the way abused, neglected and abandoned children are treated.
Voices for Children is one of 15 local CASA programs throughout Maryland that recruit, train and supervise volunteers appointed by the court to serve as advocates for children.
Before their official swearing-in, the five new CASA volunteers went through a thorough screening interview, then completed 30 hours of classroom training and up to three hours of court observation.
The new volunteers have each been assigned to one child who has been removed from his or her original home and placed in foster care. Each volunteer reports to a supervisor, then meets with a social worker who gives a detailed report of the case.
The CASA volunteers gather information and make recommendations to their supervisors and judges. Between court hearings, they ensure that the child remains safe and cared for and advocate for any additional services that the child needs.
In short, they watch over all facets of a foster child's life.
"This is one of the most intense volunteer opportunities available," said Jennifer Fuss, program coordinator of the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, which oversees the CASA program in Carroll and Frederick counties. "It's an extra caring adult in a child's life."
The Carroll County program is one of 950 CASA outlets nationwide. The diverse group of volunteers range in age from 21 to 80, and their education levels stretch from GED to PhD.
CASA volunteers are expected to see their child at least once a month. They have access to all information in case files. Every six months, they write a report and make recommendations about the child's needs, then appear in court to support the child.
The volunteers work with a child until their case is resolved or they "age out" of the program. The majority of foster children are able to find a safe and permanent home through adoption before they reach the age of 21. Most current foster children are in their early teens.
The number of children in Maryland foster homes is staggering. More than 7,000 children, ranging from newborns to age 21, are in foster care. While the majority of foster children hail from Baltimore City, 40 Carroll County youngsters are currently in that situation.
The five new volunteers increased the county's total of CASA workers to 17.
"I've been fortunate in my life," said Meisner, who is married and the father of two children. "I wanted to see if I could be a part of the solution, and I'm willing to do anything I can to help solve what is a really large problem."
Meisner recalled a recent incident at Columbia Mall as a catalyst for him becoming a CASA.
"I saw a young boy climbing, and no one was paying any attention to him," said Meisner, an occupational therapist at Home Call Inc. "I was pretty concerned, and asked him if he was all right up there. He appreciated the fact that someone was looking out for him."
Katie DuLaney and Tyler McAuliffe are in the business of helping others. DuLaney works with the developmentally disabled at the Arc of Carroll County, and saw an opportunity to make a difference in a one-on-one setting.
"This is more than just volunteering," said DuLaney, who is training to be a social worker. "I know that I'll be helping children, and learning different aspects of the court system. This is a great first step in learning how to be a good social worker."
McAuliffe is a nursing student at Coppin State, and eventually plans to earn a master's degree in public health. She feels the CASA program is a solid community resource that ably supports the foster care system.
"This is a great way to be involved in a child's life in a meaningful and personal way, especially with the career I've chosen," McAuliffe said. "Being a CASA means taking on a leadership role. You have to have a lot of self-confidence to walk into this situation."
Committing to the program wasn't easy for some of the new CASA volunteers.
DuLaney had been approached several years ago, but needed time to think about it. Courbron also waited a while to sign up.
"I got a call when my daughter was graduating from high school, but I had to step back," said Courbron, the executive director of program management at Novarax Inc.
"You have to make sure the timing is right," she said. "These kids have had a lot of people drop in and out of their lives, and they need someone to be really committed to them."