I met Danita almost four years ago when she led training for the Court Appointed Special Advocates course in which I enrolled. My first impression was that she was very kind and approachable, like if you needed a hug, she would open her arms to you.
Danita Scott, 33, has always had a heart for at-risk children. Raised in a loving, two-parent home, she was aware at a young age that not all children were so fortunate.
“The desire to make a difference in the lives of children came from the amazing parents I have,” she said. “They were so supportive of me growing up. I thought it unfair that every child did not have that crucial advantage.
“Also, my grandmother became a foster parent when I was 13. She did an awesome job, and watching her made me want to see at-risk children treated better.”
The first job in her field was working for H.E.R.O. for Children, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for children infected with, and affected by, HIV/AIDS.
With her degree in organizational management, she was a good fit for her most recent advocacy work with Cherokee County. The advocacy program appealed to her because it gave her the chance to train many volunteers to do what has always been her passion: to look out for "the least of these"—the children caught in neglectful or abusive families. After their training, the volunteers are appointed by a judge to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home. Each advocate commits to stay with their case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.
The children may change foster homes, schools and even case-workers. For many, their advocate is the one constant adult presence—the one adult who cares only for them. Because they are volunteers, the advocates don't have to worry about office politics or job security when they make recommendations to the judge.
The hardest thing for Danita is when she sees children hurt by the very system designed to help them. But most days, the rewards outweigh the heartbreak.
“I love it when I get to see families reunited and children placed in a safe and secure environment,” she said. “The most memorable experience is one case where the child I advocated for was bounced around in and out of multiple placements over the course of a year and a half, yet they graduated with a 3.6 GPA.”
Times are hard for many of us, and Danita is not immune. Last week was her last with Cherokee County. When the ax of budget cuts falls, it always lops off the newest hired, and she was it. Her colleagues will pick up and manage her cases, but no one can replace Danita.
After we raised our glasses (mainly Diet Cokes) at her farewell luncheon, she spoke.
"I will miss all of you," Danita said, "but you are doing an awesome job for these kids. That's what I am most proud of: to see how committed you are to the best interest of the children."
She was the one laid off, yet she encouraged us. I just had to hug her.
And now, you've met Danita.