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Child advocate feels responsibility for young people

November 08, 1998

Child advocate: Aimee StewartBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




As a single parent of three sons, Aimee Stewart knows the financial and emotional difficulties that parents face today.

Relying on her faith to help her through the hard times, Stewart, 51, of Hagerstown, often promised God she would do her best to help others when able.

"It was very difficult. I worked full time and went to school. I was dependent on neighbors and my brother-in-law," she said.

Now remarried with her own children grown and six grandchildren, she has been making good on that promise.

For the past 21/2 years, Stewart has been a member of the Washington County chapter of the Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

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As an advocate, she spends time representing children who are involved in court proceedings.

Child advocates make an independent evaluation of a child's circumstances and offer information and recommendations to the court for consideration, said Millie Lowman of the Parent Child Center. Through active advocacy, consistent monitoring and public education, child advocates are able to represent the best interests of children in the judicial, educational and social service communities, she said.

Stewart said she sees her job as providing a compassionate ear and gentle support to the entire family while keeping the best interests of the child at the fore.

A respiratory therapist by profession, Stewart said she spends about four hours a week as a child advocate. That time is not entirely spent in court, however.

"I try to be a positive influence. Sometimes the family comes over and has lunch or dinner or sometimes goes for a swim," she said.

Stewart, who was raised in Berwick, Pa., said she learned about the child advocacy program after picking up a brochure.

Volunteers are always needed - particularly men, she said. Patience, diplomacy and caring are necessary for the job, she said.

"My medical background has helped, but anyone with a true interest can do it," she said.

Each volunteer goes through a training period, she said.

Stewart has had two cases since she began working in the program. Children and advocates are matched based on their interests and background.

Child advocates are necessary for a variety of reasons, she said.

"Not all parents are responsible or knowledgeable. Some don't know what resources are available and sometimes they are just overwhelmed by their situation," she said.

"When we first meet, I try to talk to them more as a friend and show I'm there to help," she said of the parents.

Stewart explains her own background and problems she has encountered, she said.

While dealing with troubled children is not easy, Stewart says whenever she gets discouraged she reminds herself to stay focused.

"I have to think about the children and the end result. You can't antagonize the parents or the agencies," she said.

Stewart speaks in calm even tones.

She has a comforting, gentle manner that children seem to respond to.

She made time Sunday to distribute candy to neighborhood children who stopped by. She decided their little hands were not big enough to carry the treats, so she gave them the entire bag.

"It's okay. I have another one," she said.

One little girl asked, "Would you read me a story?"

"Maybe a little later," she responded.

Turning back, Stewart explained her decision to enter into the child advocacy program.

"I feel it's a personal responsibility. I don't think it's anything special," she said.

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