The light within: Latoya Brown draws on personal experience to put the client first

LaToya Brown, Clinical Coordinator/ Adoptions Worker

“I had no plan to be a social worker because I didn’t like my own social worker,” LaToya Brown says, laughing.

She has a bright, warm smile and you can imagine the children she works with at the Childhelp Foster Family and Adoption Agency are quickly comforted by her humor, engaging personality and empathy.

For close to four years, she has used her skills as a Clinical Coordinator/ Adoptions Worker to ensure that at-risk youth don’t feel like they are “in the system” but rather that they have a system of support to ensure they receive compassionate advocacy during tough times.

Finding her footing

Leaving UC Santa Cruz with a background in law, social change and feminist studies, LaToya was ready to flex those skills in policy work, mentoring youth through academia, or establishing a nonprofit of her own that focused on preventative resources for children and families. She knew that somewhere between a child in crisis and a better outcome was a social safety net of outreach that could benefit communities and keep struggling families together. There were many career options, but sometimes to move forward, we end up looking back. LaToya knew there was some unfinished business and a chance to create change for children like her.

“My own social worker never built a relationship with me,” LaToya remembers, “She was older and couldn’t walk up the long staircase to our place so she’d page me to run down to meet her and we’d sit in her car as she would try to pull out personal information. We didn’t connect. It seemed like she was just going through the motions; checking off boxes.”

Listening to the child

For LaToya, building rapport with a new client is essential. While she draws from her own foster care experiences, she makes it clear, “It’s not about me, it’s about that child.”

It’s not about me, it’s about that child.

Listening is one of her greatest tools but ensuring a child feels safe enough to speak openly is essential.

“During the pandemic, children are spending so much time in front of screens, so I really try to include activities, check up on goals being met and keep the interactions fun,” she says. There are tons of text messages, a haul of paperwork, home visits, scheduling, endless emails and strict protocols that make up the day to day but being present for children is so important to seeing beneath the surface and getting to the truth about what they are going through.

Building on the past to shape better futures

“I don’t always think I got what I needed in foster care because I was getting good grades, not fighting and I held things inside pretty well. I could have used a lot more support for the mental trauma.”

LaToya’s kindship care with her grandparents was loving, but typical of many families, “telling your business” or sharing your life struggles was looked down upon. She learned to turn on that winning smile and throw herself into her studies or sports or music rather than reveal too much to others.

“I didn’t let people know I was in foster care.”

Most friends didn’t know she started off going from hotel to hotel with her biological mother who was addicted to drugs. Her biological father was in the military and not around. Today, grandparents can foster and receive support services, but when she was a kid the laws were different, and when trying to juggle six children became too much for her grandparents, LaToya went into foster care. She lived in a group home and therapeutic foster home until she was emancipated and went to college.

LaToya really started to find her voice in California Youth Connections meetings. “At first, it was honestly about just getting out of the house, but I started going to their chapter meetings and learning about local issues, how we could shape laws and that’s where I was educated about foster care stuff from the inside out. I became a chairwoman of the chapter, advocated at the Capitol and was chosen to go to Washington DC to advocate for foster youth. I shadowed Congressman George Miller for a day and there’s even an article out there about it.”

Finding her voice, uplifting the voice of children

LaToya had some breakthroughs in meeting with a therapist during her undergraduate studies. She realized what she had missed when she was in foster care, describing it as peeling back the layers of the past to learn from it and heal. She still sticks to some of her old coping mechanisms of the past: running, listening to music, and her bible lessons, but birthdays and anniversaries can bring back old memories.

“Today, I can talk, use coping skills, and don’t hide under rock,” LaToya says. Not only does she not hide under a rock, but she is a rock for others.

“I worked with a young woman who was verbalizing her anger and that’s a first step,” she says, “I recognize myself in some of these kids, but it’s all about their experience and I really want to guide them to find the answers within.”

LaToya has clearly come into her own. Behind her desk there’s a framed picture with a Maya Angelou quote, “Nothing dims the light which shine from within.”

This work makes me happy

“This work makes me happy,” she says, as her own light shines from within.