Friday, September 09, 2011

Michael the Child Advocate

I had the privilege of meeting my dear friend, Michael Scribner, in the fall of 2007. Michael had just graduated from an extensive 40 hour training program, and taken an oath before a judge who swore him in as a court appointed advocate for children in the foster care system, a CASA. I was a new case supervisor at San Francisco CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

As a CASA, Michael voluntarily committed to step into the life of a child, who has faced abuse or neglect, and to be there on a regular basis. Michael agreed to pay attention to how things were going, be in regular communication with those who are important in the child’s life, listen to their perspectives, then provide his own. Michael was asked to provide fact-based observations & recommendations and put them into a written report for the court.

CASA is a national organization, started in the 70s, by a judge who realized that while most of the professionals who are charged with caring for a child who is a dependent of the court have the child’s best interest at heart, they are asked to look out for so many children that they aren’t able to know each child personally.

The idea behind CASA is, “Each one, reach one.” That way, when judges, attorneys, and social workers are in court, making decisions about what is right for a child, there would be at least one person there, in the courtroom who could say, “I know this child.” “Here is what I have seen, heard and what I recommend.”

Michael agreed to do these things for at least 18 months (the organization’s minimum commitment), which, of course, he exceed. It was my job to help him select which case, which child’s set of circumstances would be the best match, then, offer supervision and support.

Michael had gone through training with a woman who was his friend. They hoped to work on a case together. We had a set of siblings on our waiting list, an eight-year-old girl, and a ten-year-old boy who were new to the foster care system.

We thought their case would be a good match. Michael and his friend agreed to become their court-appointed advocates. At almost the same time, a major change happened in the life of Michael’s friend. She wasn’t able to be there in the way she had hoped. Michael and I partnered to pick-up the slack until she would be more free. He met the kids on his own in a foster home that was conveniently located blocks from where he was working. (At the time he was employed as the director of the Haight Ashbury Food Program, supporting the principle that freedom from hunger is a right.)

The kids warmed to Michael immediately. However, a short time into their stay in this home, it came out that some of the kids’ basic needs weren’t being met. Suddenly, they were yanked out of this home and put into a new foster home. Almost before we could get the address of the new home, we heard about alarming, concerning things that may have happened in that new home and found out the kids were being moved again. This time, they were moved to Vallejo, a community over 30 miles north of San Francisco, in the East Bay. With traffic, it could easily take an hour to reach by car. Michael didn’t have a car. He didn’t need a car to navigate the city but this community was beyond the reach of BART, our Bay Area Transit System.

Michael’s friend, who had a car and was supposed to be making this commitment with him, realized she was not going to be able to uphold her end of the agreement. She decided to come off the case. Despite these challenges and obstacles, Michael was committed. He already cared and said he would be happy to become the advocate for both kids.

These kids did not embrace everyone. The little girl would climb a tree at school and refuse to come down until the fire department came but they would RUN to Michael.

He brought donated presents to them that first holiday season. He offered support to this foster family who was providing the kids with things like swimming lessons, a bike, a yard, and loving-kindness. Michael spoke with the kids’ therapist, attended meetings at their school, got the court to order tutoring, applied for a grant and received funds to help buy new school clothes for them the following fall. The list goes on.

And this, his volun-

teering as an advocate for those in need, is just a glimpse, a tiny tip of the iceberg into the wonderful person who was my friend, Michael Scribner.


marymaddux6272 said...

So sorry to hear about Michael.

Please share our condolences with his family. It was a privilege to share a CASA case with him. He was a very kind and caring person

Thanks for letting us know

Sue and Steve

marymaddux6272 said...

Hi Mary:

Thank you for all the information about Michael. I don’t have a strong recollection of him, but it seems that he was a pretty special person and a committed CASA.

I won’t be able to attend the Life Celebration on Sunday, as I already have plans for the day. It will be a somber day for many reasons, indeed.

On Sunday, please express to Michael’s family and friends on behalf of CASA our condolences and deep appreciation for his volunteerism. The children Michael advocated for enjoyed him very much.

Jeff Perry

Interim Program Director

marymaddux6272 said...

Hi Mary,

Thank you for sharing with us about Michael's untimely and tragic death. Although, unfortunately, I do not remember him in particular, your thoughts and sentiments suggest he was a wonderful person who generously and compassionately gave of his time as a CASA.

Also, as much as I would like to attend Sunday's ceremony, I don't think it necessarily wise given my physical state at the moment. It seems I've started early labor...

I am very, very sorry I am unable to participate on Sunday.

SF CASA Program Director
(Who is out on maternity leave.)

marymaddux6272 said...

Hi Mary,
Thank you for letting me know about Michael. I am sorry I was not able to make it to the celebration. I can only imagine how beautiful and sad it must have been. Michael was a truly amazing person and I am so sorry to hear about his sudden departure. You don't meet very many people with the happiness and warmth he exuded. I hope that you and his family are doing OK. My thoughts are with all of you!
(Sent via email on 9/14)
Kate was a case supervisor at CASA who worked w/Michael, as well.