Towson, MD — Maryland CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Association hosted its 9th Annual Statewide Conference on Saturday, April 25th, 2015 at the Judicial Education & Conference Center in Annapolis, MD to help CASA volunteers, staff members, attorneys, and social workers alike to expand their knowledge-base on how to best advocate for Maryland’s abused and neglected children.
“It was an honor to speak to all of these wonderful advocates for children,” said Carol Redding, the event’s Keynote Speaker. Redding is the CEO of Health Presentations, Inc. and a former ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) Fellow with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Redding’s keynote provided an overview of the ACE Study, the findings of which revealed the long-term, negative outcomes associated with child abuse and neglect.
“It was truly inspirational, soul nourishing, and a strong indication that there is hope for many of the children and young people who are served by CASA,” said Redding.
Attendees had the opportunity to break out into various workshops throughout the day to enhance their understanding of the challenges facing foster children and youth today. Workshop topics included, were not limited to building resilience and hope, addressing trauma for children and youth in school-based settings, understanding and advocating for children and youth with autism, CINA (Child In Need of Assistance) 101, supporting LGBTQ youth, and a youth panel consisting of teens who were currently in care, or aged out of care at age 21.
“Current national data tells us that LGBTQ youth in care are at higher risk of being discriminated against, and need CASA volunteers who will advocate on their behalf” said Saida Agostini of Free State Legal Project, Inc., a legal advocacy organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) Marylanders.
Agostini provided a training for attendees to expand their capacity to work with children in foster care who identify as LGBT. “I continue to be inspired by the commitment of CASA advocates to promote the well-being of all young people in care,” she added.
Stacey Jerome, a former foster child who was provided a CASA volunteer in Montgomery County served on the youth panel that aimed to address the differing perspectives of being in care. Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions of the panel to better their understanding of the foster care experience.
“It was very exciting to attend this event and speak on the youth panel,” said Jerome. “It was empowering to know that many of the volunteers came to hear us speak and learn more about our experiences, and I hope that my story helped to provide a better understanding,” she added.
Jerome is currently enrolled at Towson University and pursuing her degree in Family & Human Services and plans to graduate in the Fall of 2016.
“This was the first time attending a CASA conference and I am grateful to be a part of the experience,” said Pier Blake, a member of Maryland CASA’s Board of Directors. “Being able to interact with some of the CASA volunteers throughout the state brought it all back home as to why I am committed to serving children as a MD CASA board member,” she added.
Blake is the Executive Director of the Jack and Jill Foundation of America, Inc., the philanthropic arm of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. She has served on the MD CASA board of directors since June, 2014
Maryland CASA Association is a private, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to ensuring the rights of all children to safe, permanent homes. This mission is carried out in partnership with fifteen local CASA programs throughout the state, which recruit, train and supervise volunteers appointed by the court to serve as advocates for children under court protection due to abuse and neglect. Currently, CASA serves children in 21 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions. For more information, please visit