Twenty-five years ago, a notice in a church bulletin caught the eye of New London resident Marc Clement. A child psychologist and Colby-Sawyer College professor at the time, Clement felt he had a lot to offer as a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of New Hampshire.
CASA volunteers serve as advocates for abused and neglected children in the New Hampshire court system, representing the best interests of the child throughout the lifetime of their case — and with his background teaching courses on child abuse and neglect since 1974, plus more available time once his kids were grown, it just seemed like a natural fit.
“I’ve been very fortunate — I had wonderful parents and a wonderful childhood, I was successful in school. I felt that someone like me who had some skills should be giving something back,” Clement says. “That’s something I could give back to kids and families who didn’t have the breaks that I had.”
CASA volunteers receive lots of training and support from the organization.
“Anyone can do it as long as you feel comfortable standing in front of a judge and saying, ‘This is what I think,’” Clement says. “It doesn’t require a special background, like a degree, or even being a parent.
“What’s interesting about it is that you not only work with the child, you work with the family — which to me is important — but you also work through the legal system in terms of trying to find a solution to what is sometimes a very difficult problem,” he says.
The process begins when the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) receives a complaint that warrants opening a case and going to court. A judge then determines whether there’s a finding of neglect or abuse. If there is, a sentencing hearing lays out requirements the parents must meet within one year to regain custody of the child. Every three months there’s a review hearing to learn what progress has been made toward the requirements and how things are going for the child.
CASAs, like Clement, advocate for the child throughout the process. They spend time with the child monthly, talk with others such as teachers and social workers, submit quarterly reports and recommendations and show up in court for the review hearings.
They provide “sort of an independent, outside look,” Clement says. “The CASA represents the best interests of the child.”
That’s different from representing the child, which means representing what the child wants, he explains.
The goal is always to help parents resolve their issues because research and the court recognize that children are better off with their parents as long as there’s no abuse or neglect, he says.
Kids don’t always end up back with their families, though.
“I’ve been involved in a number of those cases, and they’re difficult cases,” Clement says.
No matter the outcome, if it feels like the best thing for the child, Clement feels like he’s done his job.
“It makes you feel good that you can do something that has a direct impact on a child and a direct impact on a family,” he says.
Still serving as a CASA after 25 years, Clement was honored at CASA New Hampshire’s 29th Annual Celebration in June 2018 for his service to the children and families of the state.
“Marc has been an incredible support for more than 30 children over his 25 years as a CASA volunteer advocate,” CASA Program Manager Jessica Storey says. “While I only worked with him on one case, I loved that I could count on Marc to know his role and advocate for the child in just the right way. It is because of him that that case went so smoothly. Everything the child on the case needed to have happen happened and it did so very fluidly because of Marc’s diligent work.”
CASA isn’t the only way Clement advocates for the children and families of New Hampshire. A 25-year member and current chair of the New Hampshire Child Fatality Review Committee, Clement works with other relevant professionals to review the deaths of children who die in the state from other-than-natural causes. They determine whether the death could have been prevented and if, yes, what recommendations could reduce the probability of the same type of death occurring again.
“It’s hard to prove that you have stopped a death from occurring,” Clement notes. “Sometimes you don’t see changes, but you know change is happening.”
Learn more about how to become a CASA New Hampshire volunteer advocate at www.casanh.org.
Allison Rogers Furbish writes from Canaan, New Hampshire.