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SEIU Local 535 Dragon--Voice of  the Union-- American Federation of Nurses & Social Services Unioin

Community Worker Kathy Garcia
“I try to be that one adult a child can feel safe talking to.”

July-August 2001

by Richard Bermack

Kathy Garcia sitting next to Mary Shaw
Community Worker Kathy Garcia with Los Angeles Social Worker Mary Shaw

Los Angeles County began hiring ex-foster children as community workers to help foster children transition. Los Angeles community worker Kathy Garcia not only helps with transitional services, but works with social workers such as Mary Shaw visiting children and checking on placements. “Kathy has a real heart for the kids. They trust her,” Shaw states.

Knowing that the first week a child is in a new placement is crucial, Garcia calls the day after they are placed to see how they are doing. “I understand what it is like walking into a home full of strangers, knowing that you will be left there without any lifeline to hold on to and not knowing what to expect,” she states. “The evil you know feels a lot safer than the evil you imagine, and a lot of these kids came from a home that wasn’t safe, so they really have a lot of baggage.”
Garcia went back and forth between foster homes, relative placements, and her parents’ home. Her father suffered from mental illness, and her brothers would beat her and torture her with matches. At the same time, she was willing to put up with a less than perfect foster home so that she could be near her family. She understands the complexity of family issues.

Garcia works with youth 14 and over to prepare them for emancipation by connecting them with independent living services, making sure they have all their papers, such as birth certificates, school transcripts, and social security cards. But most of all she is there to listen and provide a role model. “I share my experience being in foster care with them, and they trust me because what I’m telling them isn’t just book learning.”

Garcia has worked at her job for three years she is the only community worker in her office, and has a caseload of 300 kids.