A smile came across the face of Clatsop CASA Executive Director Ann Lederer when she thought about foster parent Cravalynn Weber.

“Crave is a ball of energy,” Lederer said. “I do not know when she sleeps.”

Standing just more than 5 feet tall with bright blond hair, Weber and her husband, Ken Biamont, have been foster parents in Seaside for more than 20 years.

“She is that rare person for whom this is her mission in life,” Lederer said.

For her part, Weber calls Lederer “diligent” and “amazing” in fighting for the chil- dren CASA supports.

Together Lederer and Weber form one part of the child dependency system in Clatsop County, advocating for and supporting the chil- dren who have been removed from their homes, either through abuse or neglect.

Special advocates

CASA is holding its 15th Annual Celebration Dinner and Auction tomorrow at the Liberty Theater in Astoria. Although the dinner is sold out, there’s always a need for donations and for volunteers for next summer’s training, Lederer said.

Clatsop CASA was formed in 1992 and operates to sup- port a state law that requires all children who have been removed from their homes either because of abuse or neglect to have a “court appointed special advocate,” or CASA.

CASA volunteers – there are currently 35 in Clatsop County – are specifically charged with advocating for the best interests of a child in court. This means getting to know the child and biological parents, working with the foster parents and investigating the child’s background.

“The CASA is the person who is impartial and unbiased and is coming into it looking at what’s best for the child,” Lederer said. “We really work hard in our training to make sure people can come into it open- minded, are not pre-judging parents regardless of what their histories have been; looking at what changes they can and can’t make; and looking at whether those changes are enough to meet the needs of this child.”

According to Lederer, the ultimate goal is to provide the child, in a timely manner, with a safe and permanent home that meets their needs.

“The CASAs are just amaz- ing,” Weber said. “I have never worked with one I didn’t care for or who didn’t call me up and say, ‘What do you need? What can we get you?’ They are all about that.”

As a foster parent, Weber and the children who come through her home frequently work with CASA volunteers. She calls the volunteers a cru- cial part of the team and the squeaky wheel willing to do what it takes to get the kids what they need.

Weber recalled working with a CASA for nearly two years through the request and appeals process to get a child the critical resources he need- ed from a state agency.

“And now this kid has done a complete 180,” Weber said. “It’s because of the extra pro- grams we have been able to get him involved with – it saved that boy’s life.”

Getting involved

In 1989, a young girl came over to Weber’s home to play with her daughter. As the evening wore on, Weber asked the girl where her home was. “Next door,”’ the girl said, but her parents were in jail.

“Mom and dad had been detained, not in the home, so no one knew (the little girl and her younger brothers) existed,” Weber said. “So I scooped them up and got some help. And that’s where it all started.”

Weber and her husband now share a 4,000-square-foot home with one biological child and multiple foster children. She said it has been eight or nine years since she has had an open bedroom in her seven-bedroom home.

With a smile Weber said, “I have a hard time saying no.” Lederer moved to Astoria from Los Angeles with her husband in 2007. Before retir- ing, she had spent most of her career as a corporate attorney, most recently as the general counsel for a large financial institution.

A longtime advocate and volunteer for children in need, Lederer had planned to just be a CASA initially. When she arrived, a position as a part- time volunteer coordinator opened up. When the organi- zation’s executive director retired in 2010, she took over in that position.

She now works with a part- time volunteer coordinator and the 35 CASA volunteers who generally oversee one case each.

The volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and all over Clatsop County. Lederer said she wishes that she had at least 15 more to better serve children in need. The training takes 30 hours and includes instruction on the legal process, how to investigate a child’s case, child develop- ment and substance abuse, among other things.

In addition to more volun- teer support, both women said finding money for services is always a struggle.

Clatsop CASA, a nonprof- it, receives financial support from grants, including the United Way, individual donors and government sources. Led- erer said fundraising is a big need.

Weber receives government support for each foster child.

Water and feed them

Weber said her role differs from that of the CASA in that she is dealing with the daily grind.

“I’m the one working in the trenches so to speak; I’m living it and I’m working it,” Weber said. “(The CASAs) go out and get the tools for (me) and the child to do all the work.”

While the role of CASA and that of foster parents is diferent, both have a similar goal. “(Fostering a child) is like watering this tangerine tree,” Weber said, pointing to a small, potted green sprout on her din- ing room table. “It was not looking real good when I first got it, but I just keep water- ing, and pretty soon you have got these beautiful tangerines.” As an example, Weber points to a photo of a girl in her late teens or early 20s hanging on the wall in her dining room. She said the girl was a junior in high school with just four credits when she came to live in Weber’s home. Through hard work and support, the girl graduated from high school the following year. The girl now works in the community.

It is for that reason, and the many others like it, that Weber said she does what she does.

Parents are key

Both Lederer and Weber agree, biological parents, when they are available and willing, are important to the success of children.

Weber said most parents are thankful for the help, regardless of the situation that saw their children removed by the court. She said the parents of her fos- ter children are part of her fam- ily, and she invites them into her home for birthdays, celebrations and holidays. And when parents are willing, Weber tries to help them as a parent mentor.

“They know they need help, they just did not know how to ask for it. They are scared,” Weber said. “Nobody wants to admit that they might be failing. And it’s a hard thing to accept and look at reality for them.”

Lederer agreed and said fos- ter parents like Weber, who include biological parents in their homes, are able to get much better outcomes.

“The greatest success is not just that a child has been returned to the parent and the case is closed, or a child is placed with an adoptive family and the case is closed,” Lederer said. “The greatest success is when you see a child returned to a parent who has really embraced change for themselves as well as for the child’s sake.” 

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