Too often, when a child is placed in foster care and a relative isn’t quickly found , it is assumed that there are no relatives who could take legal care of the child. This is when Family Search and Connect, a division of New Jersey’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), steps in. The Daily Journal spoke recently with CASA’s Executive Director, Angie Waters who said, “They’ve lost touch with anybody from a biological standpoint,” referring to New Jersey’s foster children who have been in the system for a number of years. Thus, the need for Family Search and Connect.
With the extensive passage of time, relatives move around and become harder to locate. CASA’s volunteers begin as “miners.” That is, they research. They begin at the county courthouse digging into state records, which often include boxes and boxes of files. Once they gather information from these files, they head to the internet to begin the actual search. The volunteers have been trained to track down relatives: not an easy feat.
Oftentimes, the foster child can help, recalling names or memories and giving assistance to the team member working to find his/her relatives. Usually, this detective work is for teenagers in the system: those who have longer gaps since being separated from their relatives. This becomes more and more crucial the older the teenager gets and the closer he/she gets to turning 18 aging out of the system.
There has been success reuniting foster kids as they approach the age of leaving foster care. Some relatives who haven’t previously been involved in the youth’s life jump in and actively take a role at this point. And this is all thanks to hard working volunteer detectives.