Herod said being an advocate puts life in perspective: "You can complain, 'I grew up in a single-parent home.' Well, how'd you like to grow up with no parents, in 22 different foster homes?"
It's not an easy task. Child advocates have to be patient listeners and indefatigable supporters; willing to challenge foster parents, social workers and school officials, and able to find sometimes 15 hours a month to consult with teachers, doctors and lawyers.
McGehee, the retired principal, signed on after she read a column I wrote about foster care two years ago. But volunteering is not the only way to help. You can write a check, or spread the word in your neighborhood, your church, your book club.
"We need to shine a light on foster children," McGehee said.
At her schools, "you never saw the foster parents on Back to School Night or at parent-teacher conferences.... When you get a chance to work with these kids, you realize how alone they are."
McGehee remembers calling the foster home of a student who had been late for school every morning. "I asked the foster parent for help: 'Maybe wake her up earlier or something.' " A few days later, the student came into the office and asked for her transfer papers.
She was being moved to another home because the foster mother was annoyed by the principal's call.
"I felt terrible about it," McGehee said. "This child was totally on her own in the education process."
Her observation made me think of all the phone calls and emails I get when I write about failing schools. "It's the parents' fault," readers tell me.
But in some schools in Los Angeles, one in four students is in foster care — living in homes where no one seems to care if they make it to school on time, pass their algebra exam, get graduation photos. And only a relative handful — 600 of 26,000 foster children — have CASA volunteers looking out for them.
McGehee's new charge is a 13-year-old boy, whose teachers tell her he is struggling. "He doesn't call me," McGehee admits. But she's "monitoring" his algebra grades. "I reach out to him constantly."
He may not appreciate it yet, she said. "But he knows there's an extra person who cares."
And that's an important message to give a struggling, rootless child.