Neglected children need court advocates

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Carol Sorgen

As a single mother raising two children alone, Beverly Cain Egan was always focused on ensuring that her children were nurtured and encouraged to be the best they could be.

“I always felt a great deal of sadness that many children did not have this environment in their lives, and hoped that one day I could find a way to help,” said Egan, who lives in Lutherville.

When she retired after a 27-year career with PHH Fleet America, Egan tried several types of volunteer activities that involved helping children, but didn’t feel like she was doing something that could really “make a difference.”

One day while visiting the public library she picked up a bookmark for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Baltimore County and thought it sounded like the kind of volunteer effort she was searching for.

Speaking up in court

For 10 years, CASA of Baltimore County has provided advocates for children who have been removed from their parents’ or guardians’ care due to abuse and neglect.

CASA volunteers take an oath administered by a judge to represent the best interests of the child in court. The official court document guarantees that the volunteer has unlimited access to all records and each individual involved in the child’s case.

The organization has trained more than 300 volunteers, but there are still more than 600 Baltimore County children in foster care waiting for a CASA volunteer advocate. Ongoing economic problems, which are causing additional stress on families and increased reports of abuse, are giving rise to the need for even more CASA volunteers.

After being accepted and attending the mandatory CASA training of 30 hours, Egan recalled that she “could not wait” to get her first assignment.

“My first child was a teenager— with all the same problems and issues as any other teenager— only magnified by the fact that she had a history of sexual abuse and many foster homes and group homes,” Egan remembered.

Unfortunately, that story did not have a happy ending. “We lost her to the streets,” said Egan. “Despite the fact that I felt like a total failure, I was determined to try again, and I have never regretted that decision.”

Egan has worked with numerous other children over the past eight years with more successful results. One of the highlights of her volunteer efforts was attending one CASA child’s farewell ceremony before he left for his new adoptive home.

“I continue to serve as a CASA volunteer because I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to help our children, and because I have felt such joy when a child trusts me for the first time,” she said.

Making a commitment

Another enthusiastic and dedicated CASA volunteer is Joan T. McGill of Sparks. She has a flexible work schedule as president of the Dillingham Company, a marketing services and real estate management firm, and was looking for a way to help children.

McGill wasn’t ready to actually become a foster parent herself, but wanted to make a serious commitment to helping children. So she became a member of CASA’s first training class in 2001.

After the mandatory training, McGill was assigned a 14-year-old boy who was sheltered in a group home after his mother died. McGill stayed with his case for six years until he “aged out” of the foster care system. She has been an advocate for several teenage girls as well, and in each case, she said, “I have been one of the few adults in their lives who they can trust not to abandon them.”

What keeps McGill passionate and involved after 10 years of service is knowing that she makes a difference.

“Just one phone call can change a problem situation into a better outcome,” she said. What makes it worthwhile is “knowing that the judge respects my opinion and pays close attention to my recommendation.

“It is knowing that my child understands that I will be there, no matter what! It is knowing that my child will not be forgotten or slip through the cracks of the foster care system.”

CASA of Baltimore County will celebrate a decade of advocacy for abused and neglected children at a fundraising event called A Harvest of Hope for Children. The event takes place on Thursday, Oct. 28, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the Oregon Ridge Lodge, 13401 Beaver Dam Rd., in Cockeysville.

The business casual event will feature cocktails and a buffet dinner provided by Kooper’s Tavern as well as a silent auction. Captain Jack will entertain with pop/rock tunes. Individual tickets to the event are $75 in advance and $80 at the door.

For more information about volunteering, or to attend the event, call (410) 828-0515 or visit www.casabaltco.org.