Briefing Highlights Benefits of Foster Youth Advocates
WASHINGTON— Today, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, co-chaired by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Debbie Stabenow, in conjunction with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, hosted a briefing on Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, also known as CASA. This group is made up of volunteers who work with foster youth, advocating for them every step of the way by pushing for safety, normalcy and permanency. The briefing included testimony from CASA officers, supervisors and volunteers, and most importantly, from foster youth who benefited from CASA and are now successfully moving on with their lives.
One participant is a third-year law student who is a CASA volunteer and has dedicated the last eight months to mentoring and helping a young man who is in foster care. Another was in foster care herself for 12 years, placed in two foster homes, had her first child at the age of 16, and is now working to complete her master’s degree in business. Another entered foster care while a parent overcame substance and mental health issues. Her CASA advocate supported her as she grew up to eventually work in a variety of capacities improving child welfare policy, even becoming a CASA advocate herself.
Approximately 415,000 youth are in the foster care system today and face uncertainty and trauma as they struggle to understand why they are separated from the people they love most. As the youth make their way through the child welfare and court system, they depend on guidance and advocates to look out for their best interests. The briefing highlighted the challenges that foster youth face and the barriers that can be overcome with the help of a CASA advocate. “There’s always a need for volunteers so every child in foster care can have a special advocate in his or her corner,” Grassley said.
Grassley was unable to attend the briefing because of committee obligations but greeted the participants.
Participants in the CASA panel included:
Sally Wilson Erny. Sally is Chief Program Officer of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association. In this capacity she supports National CASA Association’s services to state organizations and local programs, membership, quality assurance and the grants program. During her 17-year career with National CASA Association, Sally has served as Program Officer for the Mid-Atlantic region and Director of Program Development before becoming Chief Program Officer. Prior to joining National CASA, she served 13 years as Executive Director of CASA of the River Region in Louisville, Kentucky. Before working for the CASA/GAL program, Sally served as a Policy Analyst for Kentucky Youth Advocates. She is a 1981 graduate of the University of Louisville School of Justice Administration.
Ann Marie Foley Binsner. Ann Marie is the Executive Director of Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Prince George’s County, Inc. She began her tenure in 2001 as the organization’s first executive director and has concentrated her time on program development, expansion and capacity building. Ann Marie developed programs and advocacy services for homeless and low income children and families for nearly seven years prior to joining CASA/Prince George’s County. Ann Marie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Villanova University and received a graduate leadership certificate in Non-Profit Management at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. Currently, Ann Marie is a steering committee member of the Prince George’s County Model Court Team, Co-Chair of the Prince George’s County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth Task Force and a member of the Program and Outreach Committee of Maryland’s Foster Care Court Improvement Project. She has served on the National CASA Association’s Inclusiveness and Outreach Committee of the Board of Directors, and is a past president of the Human Service Coalition of Prince George’s County. Ann Marie was awarded the 2009 Bridge Builders Award from the Prince George’s Community Foundation and received the 2013 National CASA Program Director of the Year Award.
Sarah Bosken. Sarah is the Lead Case Supervisor at Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Prince George’s County, Inc. Ms. Bosken graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and a second Bachelors in Government and Politics. Sarah earned her JD from American University Washington College of Law. She served as a clerk at the Children’s Law Center in Washington, DC, and was judicial clerk to the Judge-in-Charge of the Juvenile Division in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
Allison Perry Gilbreath. Allison is a native of Chesapeake, Virginia, where she graduated from Deep Creek High School. Immediately afterwards, Allison went on to Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia and soon transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University. There she was a member of several organizations including: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Alpha Phi Sigma (National Criminal Justice Honor Society), and the Pre-Law society among others. In January 2011 while interning at the Virginia General Assembly, Allison started the process of becoming a CASA. In April 2011 she completed the program. Allison graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice in May 2011. During the summer of 2011, Allison was selected as a Virginia Governor’s Fellow and served in the Office of Public Safety. After the program’s completion, Allison was hired as a Program Support Coordinator at Prevent Child Abuse Virginia in Richmond, and months later added on the responsibilities of volunteer coordinator. Allison has given speeches at the Virginia Child Abuse Prevention Conference and the Virginia Statewide CASA conference. In May of 2014 Allison was married to her high school sweetheart Ryan Gilbreath in their hometown. Allison is currently a full-time student in the Masters of Social Work program at VCU, the Community Engagement Manager at PCAV and an intern at Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam’s Office. Allison strives to make a difference in the life of a child each day.
Stacey Jerome. Stacey was in foster care for about 12 years. Stacey entered foster care because her mother was unable to take care of her due to mental health issues. She has been placed into two foster home placements, one group home and while she was in foster care Stacey entered an independent living program where she was able to obtain her own apartment. At the age of 16 while Stacey was still in foster care she had her first child who is five years old years old now. She was able to finish high school, purchase a vehicle, and start college. Stacey is now in her final year of college at Towson University where she is studying Family Studies in the Human Services field. She plans to get her masters degree in business so that she can open her own nonprofit that helps foster youth.
Lindsey Stearns. Lindsey is a CASA volunteer in Washington, DC, and a third-year student at Georgetown University Law Center. She graduated from The George Washington University in 2013 with a major in Political Science and a minor in History. Lindsey is originally from the greater New York City area and has lived in the Washington DC metro area for the past four years.
Allison Kahn. Allison has been with CASA for Children of DC since 2012, and serves as Senior Manager, Program Support. Allison’s work has covered a range of programs serving youth of all ages. Presently, Allison manages CASA's Family Treatment Court (FTC) program in conjunction with DC's FTC, providing volunteer advocates for children whose parents are recovering from substance addiction. She is also developing and managing a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program to serve CASA DC's youth. Allison has previously worked with CASA's transitioning youth population and Aftercare program with emancipated youth. Prior to working with CASA, Allison earned her Juris Doctorate, Cum Laude, from Pace University School of Law in 2011 and a Bachelor’s Degree from Goucher College in 2007. Allison has served as a Pro Bono Advocate for victims of domestic violence in the New York City metro-area, interned with the Westchester County Family Court, and participated in an Honors Externship with the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office. Allison's work with CASA continues a career long dedication to working with and bettering the lives of children, striving for a better tomorrow.
Cynthia Smith. Cynthia is Chief Legal and Advocacy Officer for the National CASA Association. Cynthia is an attorney with a long career in advocacy for nonprofit associations and organizations. She has served as legal and government relations counsel for the consumer healthcare and blood service industries, the golf industry, and safety net hospitals; she also served on the staff of U.S. Senator Mac Mathias (R-MD). She recently returned to Washington, DC, from Lawrence, Kansas, where she was active in Habitat for Humanity, participating in home builds and serving on the local board of directors, as well as on the committee for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which supports numerous charities. In 2012, Cynthia traveled solo around the world, visiting 12 countries. She earned degrees from the University of Maryland and George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC.