Helping Children: Q&A with Marty Sink of CASA NH and Heather Hall of DCYF about dire need for volunteers

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Click the link above to watch the full interview on NH PBS’s The State We’re In.

Joining The State We’re In host Melanie Plenda is Marty Sink, President and CEO of CASA NH, and Heather Hall, Foster Care Recruitment and Retention Program Specialist with the Division for Children, Youth and Families, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The content below is a truncated transcript and has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full interview above or tune in to NH PBS’s The State We’re In.

Melanie Plenda: Marty, let’s start with you. For those who are unfamiliar with it, can you tell us about CASA and the work you do?

Marty Sink: CASA is a statewide nonprofit organization that advocates for children with an amazing army of volunteers throughout the state; children who come to the attention of our family circuit court system as a result of child abuse or neglect. Our advocates are appointed in the role of a guardian ad Litem whose sole responsibility is bringing to the court’s attention what’s in the best interest of the children that we serve.

Melanie Plenda: What do your volunteers do and how do you find them?

Marty Sink: Recruitment is a 24/7 ongoing initiative that we’ve had for all the years that CASA has been in New Hampshire. We are constantly looking at new ways to recruit, and different avenues and vehicles in which to get the word out. Our volunteer’s role is so critical in advocacy for these children that is somewhat different. It’s getting to know who they are, learning about their circumstances, getting to know people who are significant in their lives: whether those are foster parents if they have been removed from their home, biological family, parents, everything from teachers to daycare providers and medical personnel if they are involved for medical reasons. It’s really gathering information from all these various players and then bringing recommendations to the court for what is in the best interest of the child. Last year we served over 1,500 children on over 950 cases of child abuse and neglect in New Hampshire.

Melanie Plenda: To follow up on that a little bit, what sorts of backgrounds do most of your volunteers have? Do they have to already have some sort of legal background or understanding and if not, what’s that training process like?

Marty Sink: No, they don’t. As a matter of fact, I think what makes the organization as rich as it is are the unique perspectives that our CASAs bring from all walks of life. There is no requirement for any specific type of background. You don’t need to be a lawyer, you don’t have to be a retired social worker. Initially they’re going through 40 hours of our pre-service. It’s a very robust training program. We’re doing it all remotely now, which has been one of the COVID blessings as we say. We are able to train people all over the state. We have many training opportunities throughout the course of any year, and that 40 hour training is really a comprehensive look at the children that we advocate for, the families that they come from, the issues involved in those families: everything from substance misuse to domestic violence. We cover the New Hampshire laws that govern our child protection statute, and we’ll always have a judge present during one of our trainings. A DCYF social worker maybe be part of the training as well. It is a very complete picture of the work they’re about to engage in, but it’s just the toolbox with a few tools in it, then they’re adding tools to that as they move through these cases and accept those appointments from the court.

Melanie Plenda: Heather, where do the kids in the New Hampshire Foster Care program come from? What are ages are they, and how long do they typically stay in foster care?

Heather Hall: The families that we serve are all over the state of New Hampshire. Obviously, in certain areas where there is a density of population, we have a greater number of children that are involved in care. We have certain DOs in the southern area of the state that have a higher number of cases, but we truly do serve all of the children in all of the families throughout the entire state of New Hampshire. Now, as far as their ages, no two cases are the same when it comes to foster care. When someone becomes a licensed foster parent, their general fostering license is for zero to 18-year-olds, so it is truly a broad range of ages that we deal with within the families. Concerning how long children are in care, they could be in care for as little as a few days until we were able to find a family member that they’re able to have placement with, or it could be a year or more when we are going through the process of permanency for them and doing our best to make sure that they are in a safe and loving home.

Melanie Plenda: This question is for both of you. Can you tell us about the last three years? What has that been like for your organizations, and for the types of cases that you deal with? 

Marty Sink: The last three years have been challenging, like it has been for everyone else. I think what was probably initially one of the most challenging parts to our work is that our courts that hear these cases are family division within the circuit court. They never slowed down and immediately pivoted to telephonic court hearings. We had to really guide our hundreds of volunteer advocates into how to accomplish attending those telephonic hearings. It also changed the way we visited with our kids. One of the things that CASA does extremely well is regular contact with these children. A minimum of once a month and frequently more often than that, they will have a visit with a child. But during the pandemic, we needed to do that virtually as well.

We had some of our advocates reading bedtime stories to their 4- and 5-year-old CASA kids who were in foster care over Zoom or doing things by FaceTime and got really creative doing Drivebys. The other thing that we did do that we have accomplished really well and I’m very proud of, is our training program. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all virtual now, and we are training CASA volunteers all over the state in the same virtual classroom. Our two experienced and really creative trainers have completely transformed our training program into this virtual platform. Those are the biggest challenges. I have to say, for the first several months of the pandemic, we saw an immediate drop in numbers of cases because kids were no longer in their classrooms.

Teachers are and have historically been our No. 1 source of reporting of child abuse and neglect. Those that dropped off, it is now after almost post-pandemic those cases are coming out of the courts again. We are seeing an increase in those numbers with children that have experienced severe abuse or neglect. We’re talking about kiddos who live in really unsafe environments with parents who are using substances. There’s been an increase in domestic violence. We’re really just trying to keep up with the demand and the complexities of the issues for our children who are coming into the state’s care, coming out of the pandemic. The isolation, the mental health issues are so significant, and trying to get access to services for these children and their families so that they can be successfully reunited continues to be an ongoing challenge for us.

Heather Hall: As Marty said, there has been a significant pivot and some of the things where they have had to pivot we have also seen a need to pivot as well. An interesting point is that even through the pandemic and over the last couple of years, we’ve continued to see people come forward who are interested in learning more about fostering, coming through our licensing process, that has not diminished. That feeling or that tug on their heart that the community has about helping children in need, that has not stopped. It definitely looks a little different at this point but our efforts specifically with recruitment and retention, we are still going full steam ahead. We have been able to include social media, we’ve been able to include things like Zoom and technology to help support us in that pivot, as Marty was talking about as well.

One of our goals that has really risen to the top is to make sure that we’re not only supporting the foster child and in reunification with their family, but also our foster families as well. These last couple of years have been interesting to say the least, and families that typically deal with trauma, and then you put on top of that the impact of a pandemic, and you can see why this is really all hands on deck. This is a really great opportunity for us to be the village for the families in New Hampshire that need our help, and that’s really where our focus has been recently.

Melanie Plenda: The things that kids have gone through, the complexity of these cases, it can be tough to hear and to deal with. What are the supports for the volunteers or for the foster families?

Heather Hall: Some of the supports in place, I do a twice-a-week informational session with potential foster families. Imagine all of the families who have a stable situation, and how impactful the pandemic has been for them. Then throw on top of that a child that has been removed from their home for their safety concerns. Just imagine how much trauma that child has experienced. We are making sure that we are locking hands with our caregivers, whether that’s foster families, potential adoptive families, biological families, or relative caregivers. It is truly a village of us working together and making sure that they have the additional levels of support that they need. That has come about because of this pandemic. It has really heightened the fact that we need to work together to best serve all of the families of New Hampshire.

Marty Sink: We’ve increased our support groups that we offer our volunteers, and those are offered all over the state. We have seven offices throughout the state, and each one of them holds virtual support groups. They have a safe place to come to where they can talk about their case and their struggles and frustrations. But we’re trying to get back to more of those in person opportunities because that’s really what binds our advocates together. They’re part of a large community, so as much as we can do around getting them together again as a group is important. Each one has a program manager who provides their direct supervision and support. They are by their side from the beginning of the case to the end of the case. Each of these program managers – we have 18 of them throughout the state – are supporting a cluster of our volunteers and giving them the extra bandwidth they may need at times. These cases are incredibly challenging and emotionally draining but we try to shore up these advocates as best we can. There’s a tremendous amount of support and ongoing training, which is also a critical piece of our work.

Melanie Plenda: What would each of you say to people who are thinking of volunteering or becoming a foster parent?

Heather Hall: I would say, please just do it. A lot of times you will hear people have it in their heart that they want to become foster families, and they’ll say they’re afraid of getting too attached, or they’re not sure they have the experience or the expertise to be a foster parent. I’m here to tell you that we are here to help you every step of the way. You do not need prior experience. We are here to help provide amazing training to you, not only at the very beginning. We also have a mentorship program for our incoming new caregivers, and that’s something that is ongoing. We want to be able to communicate with the public that this is a significant need.

In the state of New Hampshire, we have a little over 600 licensed foster homes, and about half of that number currently have placements. The number of children that we have is right around the 1,200 mark as far as children who are removed from their homes in various levels of care. When you look at that number, you may think there’s 300 or something homes that are handling all of those children; how many more homes do they actually need? But if you look at the full number that we have of the 600, and then you take out some families that are full, some families may only be interested in adoption, some families may be on hold due to COVID, or they’re taking a bit of a break, or maybe it’s child-specific or they’re looking for a particular age range. You can see very quickly how that 600 that sounds like a healthy number dwindles significantly. When we are looking for help from the community, we’re not just looking to find a bed for that child, we want to be able to find the best placement possible to be able to say, here’s multiple homes that are in your area so that you don’t have have to change schools. You can stay in your community of origin, and here’s a few homes to choose from. What is going to be the best match for that child so that we reduce the impact of trauma for them so that their family can do the hard work that they need to do to be able to reunify with their children? For me, that is the big message, that we have a lot of work to do. Don’t be afraid if you feel like you are not equipped to do so. We are here to equip you and to literally hold your hand and provide you amazing support every step of the way. 

Marty Sink: I would say that there are children throughout the state of New Hampshire who need a village. Not only do we need CASA volunteers, but we need foster homes. We need adoptive homes. There are children who are craving and deserving of permanency for them, and a safe place for them to live out their childhood and into their adulthood. There are many different ways to get involved in a child’s life and to have an impact and make a difference. Maybe it’s becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister. Maybe it’s volunteering at your local Boys and Girls Club. Maybe it is becoming a CASA volunteer and doing this challenging, life-changing work. Maybe it’s opening your home to a child to be a foster parent or an adoptive parent. We have children that are waiting for adoption in New Hampshire, and they are incredible kiddos who have baggage, but they are resilient and waiting for that permanency at last. My final message would be that there are many ways that anyone in the state of New Hampshire can get involved in a child’s life and make a difference.


dhhs logo color2Are you considering becoming a Foster Parent? Are you curious about the steps necessary to become licensed? Are you looking for answers to common questions? Please join us a LIVE interactive Webinar to learn more.

You are welcome to just listen in or you can ask additional questions during the LIVE sessions. Either way, thank you for your interest in becoming a Foster Parent. We can’t wait to meet you!

Start Date: October 18, 2022
Start Time: 12 -1 p.m.
Location: Online

REGISTER for Information Session here.

Read more about Fostering here.

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CASA volunteers change the stories of children who have experienced abuse or neglect by advocating for their best interests in court. To learn more about volunteering and get your questions answered by CASA staff members or current advocates, please join us at one of the following Virtual Information sessions. Register below and you will receive an email with the meeting details.

All information sessions are open to anyone who would like to attend. Register here.


  • Wednesday, October 19 | 5:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 2 | 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, November 17 | Noon
  • Thursday, December 6 | 5:30 p.m.

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