Philanthropy Friday: The Support Center for Child Advocates

Every Friday we introduce you to a local LGBT nonprofit in Philadelphia. This week: Child Advocates, a child abuse welfare agency that hosts a special program for LGBTQ youth. 

Milagros Roca

Staff social worker Miligros Roca works with local attorneys to address the specific needs of LGBTQ youth in the city’s child-welfare system.

Who are you? The Support Center for Child Advocates is a nonprofit agency providing free legal and social services to children who have been abused and neglected and are navigating the child-welfare system in Philadelphia. In one of our core programs, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth Project, Child Advocates provides access to justice, representation, safety and hope to youth of all ages who are in the Philadelphia child welfare system and who are marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Child Advocates pairs a designated staff social worker, Miligros Roca, LSW, with volunteer attorneys from the area’s legal community to represent specific needs of LGBTQ youth in the city’s child welfare system.

Why did you find it necessary to start an LGBTQ Youth Project? We recognize that sexual orientation can be the biggest barrier to permanency, and is a large contributing factor to youth homelessness. LGBTQ youth are more likely to enter the foster care system due to physical abuse stemming from their sexual orientation or abandonment by their parents because they identify as LGBTQ. For LGBTQ youth, their sexuality is inherent not only to them as individuals, but also to their case before the court. Professionals can no longer ignore sexual orientation and the language, culture and sensitivity that go along with it simply because they are uncomfortable with the topic. LGBTQ youth must have advocates who will understand, discuss and address all facets of the client’s life in order to truly represent their legal needs.

When was Child Advocates founded? It began as a subcommittee of the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association in 1971 and was incorporated as its own agency in 1977. We have been at the forefront of child welfare policy and the legal representation of children for more than three decades. We created a nationally recognized model of teaming a volunteer attorney and a staff social sorker on each case to provide quality legal representation and advocate for all appropriate social services, such as therapy, educational support and medical care.

What about the LGBTQ Youth Project? In 2009, we hired a law fellow to create the LGBTQ Youth Program, and so began our focused work with this often overlooked group of children and youth. The project is now led by a Masters-level child advocate social worker who works with an assigned volunteer attorney to represent her clients to ensure their individual issues are met.

What is Child Advocates shining moment, to date? As an organization in existence for more than three decades, we have lived through numerous highs and lows. However, looking at the LGBTQ Youth Project, one moment comes to mind. We created a video for our Annual Benefit Reception and Auction two years ago, and were able to feature a client who is served through the LGBTQ Youth Project. Marvin was willing to speak out about his experience with Miligros [Roca] and his lawyer. He was charming and camera-ready. It took a lot of guts for him to be so open and public and we are very proud of him. Check out the video:

If a check for $1 million found its way to our doorstep … We would put it on the streets! We are growing every year, representing a record number of children and youth—more than 1,000 clients. With $1 million, we would be able to hire more social workers, train more volunteer attorneys and serve more abused children. We would provide more trainings for service workers who work with LGBTQ youth, expand our distance-learning opportunities to reach a broader base, and advocate for more LGBTQ foster families to open their homes for youth in need of acceptance and understanding.

Special events coming up? Always! Right now, we are looking forward to our largest event of the year: our Annual Benefit Reception and Auction on Wednesday, April 22nd, at the Crystal Tea Room. We will celebrate those who make our work with children possible and recognize the special contributions to children’s welfare from business leader and child advocate Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck.

Also, we are offering a new and exciting (and free!) webinar. Best Practices for LGBTQ Youth (Friday, May 1st, from 1:30 to 3:30 pm). Developed to improve the services and outcomes for LGBTQ youth in the child welfare and behavioral health systems, this training will empower service providers to fulfill their responsibilities to provide safe and non-discriminatory care to this population of youth. Several topics are covered, including adolescent development, language and service sensitivity, policies that affect well-being. To register for this webinar click here.

Are there ways I can contribute without giving money? Of course! We work with more than 350 Child Advocates volunteer attorneys every year, and as our caseload grows, our need for attorneys grows, too. Find descriptions of the different types of volunteer opportunities here.

How can I donate money? Click here to donate. Or you can mail a check to this address: Support Center for Child Advocates, 1900 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19010.