Several years ago, Kym Matthews met former CASA volunteer and current Michigan CASA employee, Janice Fonger at a networking “power lunch” hosted by WGVU radio host Shelley Irwin. For Kym, this was the introduction into a community she is now passionate about.
Mary Finedore, a local medical student, LGBTQ+ educator, and friend of CASA, was on clinical rotation at a hospital when she saw something that changed her life: a young girl in the emergency room suffering immense trauma at the hands of her foster father. Accompanied by a caseworker, the child was shaking and in shock. Mary observed as the doctors did what they could to help the child, but they still had to release her back to the child welfare system. Mary felt helpless that the hospital couldn’t do more to ensure the young girl’s health and safety. She decided then that she would find a way to improve healthcare for kids in the child welfare system.
Now Mary is working to do just that. She researched ways to get involved with foster care, which led to her CASA. Within a few days, she connected with Advocate Supervisor Rosemary Allen. Rosemary explained what being a CASA is like; Mary was intrigued. As a medical student who works up to 100 hours a week, she was nervous about the commitment. She asked how else she could contribute. Rosemary shared an idea: Mary could lead an in-service training for CASA volunteers – something to expand their knowledge and help them better serve the children on their cases. Together they brainstormed topics with Program Manager Kari Frederick. They decided to focus on serving LGBTQ+ children in foster care.
If you’re familiar with CASA, you’re likely aware of the hardships children face in the child welfare system. Foster care can be even more traumatic when a child has one or more marginalized identities. These struggles are why CASA so strongly believes that children should have a court appointed special advocate to represent their best interests in court.
Children who identify as LGBTQ+ are overrepresented in foster care (childrensrights.org). Nationally, LGBTQ+ youth are much more likely to be kicked out or rejected by their families because of their LGBTQ+ identity. These youth are also at higher risk of verbal and physical harassment in group care. To provide best interests advocacy for children in Kent County, it is essential for CASA volunteers and community members to understand the harsh reality of being LGBTQ+ in the foster care system.
During the training, Mary described scenarios of how a child or teen might bring up LGBTQ+ topics and shared tips on how to respond in a respectful, affirming way. While the possible realities of child advocacy are infinite, Mary summarized essential steps when supporting a CASA child who may be struggling with an issue related to their LGBTQ+ identity.
- Validate and empathize.
- Reassure the child or teen that you are a safe person for them to talk to.
- Use open-ended questions.
- Reflect the child’s or teen’s words back to them.
- Let the child or teen set the pace for conversation and disclosure.
- Clarify when needed.
- Thank the child or teen for opening up to you.
Mary’s wise advice applies not only to volunteers working with children and teens who identify as LGBTQ+, but also all volunteers who advocate for vulnerable children.
This article is part of the Summer 2023 edition of CASA Connect, CASA of Kent County’s quarterly newsletter. Click here to view a pdf version of this newsletter.
For 35 years, local accounting firm EHTC has devoted its annual golf outing, Chipping for Chairty, to raising money for community organizations. Our staff and board of directors were ecstatic when CASA of Kent County selected as the company’s official charity partner for 2023.
CASA volunteers commit time throughout the year to advocate for children, so we love to throw a proper party to express our gratitude for their hard work.
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