San Diego volunteer provides foster care and consistency as special advocate

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It was the look of terror Kate Gibson saw on her 9-year-old neighbor’s face that sparked a change in her thinking about people who had been victimized in life and how this trauma could affect the rest of their lives. life.

“I’ve been able to see first-hand some of the issues that children face, and it doesn’t leave you,” she says, referring to her next door neighbors who were foster parents at the time. “It’s something that has always stuck in my head and in my heart. This population of children has incredibly special needs that are just too easily overlooked by others. This is how I found Voices for children. “

Voices for Children is a nonprofit organization that educates, educates, and provides volunteer support for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in San Diego and Riverside counties. These volunteers are matched with a child after completing an application process, interviews, background check and other requirements. They get to know the child and meet with lawyers, social workers and others involved in that child’s case to ensure that the child’s needs are met and constitute a consistent and caring adult presence in their care. life. Voices for Children estimates that 3,500 San Diego children will be spending time in foster care this year after experiencing abuse or neglect.

Gibson, who previously worked in special education as a teaching assistant, began volunteering as CASA in 2018 and took the time to talk about her experience, her initial concerns, and the lessons she learned. learned how to effectively advocate for children in vulnerable situations. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version of this conversation, visit sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-lisa-deaderick-staff.html.)

Question: In what ways does the CASA program support children in foster care in San Diego?

A: I think education is probably one of the main ways CASAs can really get involved and play a key role in their advocacy. Most of our children don’t stay very long in the same school because they change placements. The court tries to keep them at their home school, but it can sometimes be a 30-40 minute drive from where they were placed. This educational piece is so important for any child, but especially for the children we deal with, as it gives them their freedom. If they can feel confident in their education, they might find some success. For the majority of our children, education is possibly the biggest thing a HOUSE can get involved in, while also working with their emotional development. There are so many emotional issues, so much trauma that a lot of kids have gone through. Years and years of emotional trauma, so I think individual therapy is really important. It’s not always what kids want, so the process can sometimes be a long one. Then they start therapy, but may not really connect with their therapist. So, this is not the easiest thing to do. As CASA, however, I think it’s important that we stand up for their interests and make sure they get therapeutic services that they don’t think they want or need.

Kate Gibson is a Volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) through Voices for Children, a non-profit organization that trains volunteers to advocate for the rights of children placed in the foster care system. .

(Photo courtesy of Kate Gibson)

Question: What have you learned about the best way to defend young people in foster care?

A: First of all, manage the expectations because whatever it is, it’s going to change slowly. It’s also so much about relationships. This is the only thing I have really tried to do, is not only to establish a relationship with the children, but with the professionals involved in their cases, so that we have good two-way communication.

We must also accept that things do not happen quickly. My youngest child was in a wheelchair and the van the host family had, which had the wheelchair mechanism built in, was stolen from their driveway before Christmas a few years ago. I rushed to sort this out and it took six months. When my older child was leaving San Pasqual Academy (a residential education place for young people in foster care, located in Escondido), I sat with her in a meeting where she was told about all the things. why they were going to help him on it. going out: furniture, a computer, internet access, that sort of thing. Through no fault of the academy, once she left she was assigned a new social worker and none of the things discussed in that meeting happened. It took us two years to straighten it out. Even with a CASA, it’s that long. So, manage expectations, listen to different professionals to get a good overview, and accept that things take time; these are the things I learned about good advocacy for these children.

Question: Going back to your story about the foster child your neighbors were looking after, what did you do to get him to open the closet and come out?

A: We just sat down and talked to her for 30 minutes, through the door. It was just being there and listening. At one point we said, ‘Look, if that doesn’t work out today, you can stay home, but we need you to come out and we need to talk about it. His circumstances, whatever they are, at the age of 9, shouldn’t be the things that will define him for the rest of his life. I guess that’s what I come back to all the time with kids is that I have the opportunity to work with kids who are unique, bright, creative, and they deserve not to see their circumstances. past define and even crush some of the dreams they have. In the case of my older child, I tell her all the time that she’s amazing. I’m just amazed at her because she grew up in such a dysfunction, and it would be so easy for her to keep up with that. Instead, she’ll say, “I’m going to find a job,” and she gets a job. She’s really working on it, instead of saying, “Oh, poor me.” I think it’s because there are people in her life who believe in her, who care about her beyond the report they have to write, and that’s what it takes.


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