September 2023 Advocate Spotlight: Linda Fiato
We invite you to meet Linda Fiato, nominated by Case Supervisor Kristy O’Neal.
“Linda is awesome!” Kristy said. “She is in regular contact with all parties and brings significant professional experience that is invaluable. She is in contact with therapists and qualified professional experts to assess the issues involved in her current case. She has also maintained communication with criminal investigators.”
We asked Linda to share her experiences as an Advocate.
Is there anything unique about your background that contributes to your approach to advocacy?
I have four children of my own (two biological and two step-kids). My oldest child has mild Autism. It was challenging to obtain a diagnosis for him; however, I was eventually able to obtain private school placement for him to help address his needs. That experience taught me the importance of youth having someone in their corner, advocating for them.
I have a bachelor’s degree in both Criminal Justice and Psychology. I began my law enforcement career while I was in college at San Diego State University. I began as a student worker stationed at juvenile hall for the County of San Diego Probation Department. After graduation, I was hired and promoted to deputy probation officer. Throughout my 25-year career, I worked with both youth and adults and specialized in adult sex offenders, domestic violence offenders, child abusers, and stalkers. I was both a subject matter expert in sex offenders as well as a member of the Domestic Violence High Risk Lethality Team. I am currently a Qualified Mental Health Provider for Tri-County Behavioral Health at Creighton Elementary. I work with about 35 youth, assisting them in addressing their behavioral issues and improving their social skills.
How did you become interested in volunteering as AN aDVOCATE?
I have known about CASA for some time—while I was in law enforcement, being a CASA Advocate would have been a conflict of interest, though. Once I retired, I relocated to Texas and contacted CASA Child Advocates to volunteer.
Did you have any reservations about volunteering?
I did not have any reservations about volunteering. I was excited to navigate a different relationship with youth and step into more of a mentorship role, rather than that of an authority figure.
Explain in your own words the work you do as a CASA aDVOCATE. Why is it essential for a child in care?
CASA Advocates have a unique role in that we foster relationships with the children in our care, their biological parents and extended family members, and their current caregivers. Additionally, we work with other agencies such as CPS, therapists, foster families, CASA staff, the courts, and law enforcement agencies to meet the needs of the children we serve and their families. This wraparound approach allows us to provide the best possible outcome for our youth in care.
What has surprised you most about your aDVOCACY work?
I have been most pleasantly surprised at both the initial training and ongoing training opportunities CASA provides to its Advocates. CASA provides excellent training for its staff and volunteers. This training is valuable at producing a well-rounded and unbiased Advocate.
What has been the most difficult aspect of being an advocate?
The most difficult aspect is recognizing that the decisions in each case are unique and are not black and white. As Advocates, we need to be OK with choosing the most desirable option and realize we can’t always create a “perfect” situation for the youth we serve, even though we’d like to. We all do the best we can, but it will sometimes feel like it’s not enough. It’s hard to not be able to fix every situation.
What would you like the community to know about children in care?
Children in care need our support. Having a consistent Advocate can be stabilizing for a child who is dealing with constant transition. Having someone in their corner from start to finish in the process can be invaluable for our youth. Other ways to help youth in care include donating time or money, fundraising, and just spreading the word about CASA Child Advocates!
What have you learned as an advocate?
The children in our care are resilient, given the right support. Many have been through significant trauma, and they need someone in their corner, advocating for them. They are our next generation, and we owe them a fighting chance to experience healing.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
My favorite memory is attending the dinosaur-themed fourth birthday party of a child I serve.