By KENDRA SITTON
It was serendipitous when Matt Morscheck walked into his local Starbucks to order his grande latte and saw a poster for Voices for Children offering an information session. He had recently moved from his hometown of Portland, Ore. to North Park for a job without knowing anyone locally. He already wanted to find a place to volunteer so he could get to know the community better.
Voices for Children is the local agency that facilitates volunteers – known as CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) – being matched with children in the foster system.
While in Portland, he taught medical providers how to competently treat foster youth. In that position, he learned about CASAs and thought that someday he would like to become one.
“I learned about this cool model that brought in volunteers to really help advocate for the foster youth given that there’s so many different providers and agencies involved when a child gets separated from their home for abuse or neglect, so they’ve already been traumatized and then they’re in the system where there are just so many confusing parts and pieces moving all the time,” he explained. “I learned that CASA is the volunteer that’s highly trained and responsible for advocating and listening and forming a trusting relationship with the youth.”
The North Park resident scanned the QR code so he could sign up for an information session.
“I thought, hey, well this is perfect,” he said.
Another reason he was excited about the opportunity is that kids had always been part of his day-to-day life, whether through being the neighborhood’s favorite babysitter, helping with his mom’s daycare, working at summer camps and later spending time with his nieces and nephews. When he moved to San Diego, those daily interactions disappeared. For people who are not parents or educators, it can be difficult to have meaningful intergenerational relationships. This is one way he incorporated working with kids back into his life.
After the introductory session, he immediately applied to be a volunteer and went through the extensive training program. Since then, he has been an active volunteer for the past two years and has worked with three foster youth. Details around the children are confidential but he did confirm he has worked with teenagers and LGBT+ youth.
For older foster youth, Morscheck explained “there’s a big emphasis on developing some of those independent living skills, focusing on getting your high school diploma and thinking about post-high school plans.”
During his training, he shared with Voices for Children that he was a member of the LGBT+ community and was willing to be matched with LGBT+ youth so they could receive culturally-competent care.
“I learned through my training that LGBTQ youth are over represented. In fact, some stats say that one in three kiddos in the foster system identifies as LGBTQ. I found that very troubling and concerning and if I could be part of helping to make sure that youth in the system don’t get re-traumatized by folks or providers that are not providing LGBTQ inclusive services,” he said.
One of the reasons this model has been adopted by many judicial systems is that it gives foster youth individualized attention. Social workers have dozens of cases and are often overworked. Bringing in a volunteer who only works with one or two kids at a time means they can get to know the children as a whole person.
“I just really, really enjoy getting to know the individual youth that I’ve been matched with and seeing them succeed has been a huge highlight,” Morscheck said. HIs favorite moment was celebrating one of his youth getting their high school diploma.
In addition to building a trusting relationship, the advocacy role the volunteers take on means they help solve problems like transferring education records when the child is placed in a new living situation or ensuring they have transportation to a doctor’s appointment.
The final aspect of being a CASA is that they send a written report to the judge who appointed them every six months. The report includes how the youth is progressing, any barriers they are facing and an update on their overall wellbeing.
“It’s about making sure that the child has a voice,” Morscheck said about ensuring the child’s perspective on aspects of their life is included in the comments to the judge.
Initially, Morscheck was concerned about the time commitment but he found ways to make volunteering flexible. In addition, he has a supervisor and other people he can lean on for help.
“it’s been one of the most meaningful and I think impactful volunteer experiences I’ve ever had,” Morscheck said.
Morscheck said that Voices for Children is particularly in need of men and LGBT+ people to volunteer so they can be matched with kids of shared experience. He encourages anyone with even a small amount of interest to sign up for an information session at speakupnow.org.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.