Susan Brillhart: Caring for Kids

Susan Brillhart uses her expertise and compassion to certify foster kids are properly cared for and “engaged, happy and joyful” while in the system.

Susan Brillhart, Hudson County Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Susan Brillhart, Hudson County Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Photo by John Emerson

Susan Brillhart was looking for a way to put her unique set of skills to work helping children. Then she saw a newspaper ad for CASA, a national organization for the protection of children within the court system who have been neglected or abused. The Hudson County branch needed volunteers. Brillhart took it as a sign.

Brillhart was raised in a home devoted to giving back at every opportunity. Her background includes disaster training and 30 years as a pediatric nurse practitioner; she even has a PhD in nursing. But in 2002, stress forced her to leave her Manhattan-based job in foster care as a clinical coordinator and pediatric nurse. She had been working with up to 152 medically fragile children while managing a full staff and remaining on call 24/7. The unrelenting demands brought on cardiac arrhythmia.

Then she saw the ad for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). It turned out to be the perfect outlet for Brillhart’s energy and talents. CASA volunteers take on individual cases, advocating for the welfare of foster children and helping them find loving, permanent homes.

As a CASA volunteer, Brillhart chooses some of the most difficult cases. Most of the 26 children she has worked with in Hudson County have been under the age of five and in grave medical condition, often as a result of a neglectful parent or guardian. She uses her expertise, energy and compassion to certify that they are properly cared for and “engaged, happy and joyful” while in the foster system.

“Susan is really a one-in-a-million person,” says Beverly Savage, executive director of CASA’s Hudson County branch. She emphasizes Brillhart’s willingness to take on even the most devastating cases.

After successful adoptions, Brillhart is often invited to visit the new homes and celebrate the amazing progress of the children she has helped. “Early intervention will change the trajectory of their lives,” she says. “Then you don’t have to hold on forever; you can let them fly.”

Brillhart, who lives in Hoboken, is pleased to fill a crucial need in her home state. “All of my volunteering is in New Jersey,” she says. “To me, you should give back in your home community.”

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