Ricardo Matthias, Youth Engagement Specialist with the Colorado Department of Human Services, Division of Child Welfare
Working with young people has been Ricardo’s passion and calling since he graduated from college with a degree in psychology. He’s been working as a public servant for the past 22 years, helping young men and women with little family support to make the best of their lives.
“I started with the Division of Youth Corrections in 1994 and then I transferred to the Division of Child Welfare to see if I can somehow impact policies that affect our young people, whether they’re in foster care or DYC,” Ricardo said. “I just have a passion for it. I enjoy trying to help young people find their way.”
Ricardo works to help former foster care youth, who often face homelessness, by determining if they are eligible for a federal housing voucher program. He also helps ensure that young people have a voice when it comes to state run programs or legislation that affect them.
“With government it’s about the money first, that’s how it always feels to us working in the bureaucracy,” Ricardo said. “But we’re trying to change that. We do volunteer work to gain the understanding that this is why we’re doing what we do. Rather than just going to business meetings all day to talk about kids we have to make sure that we also hear from kids. Another part of my job is that I recruit young people to sit on committees and subcommittees with some of our directors.”
To bring the voices of young people to the table, Ricardo has recruited young men and women to sit at the table with decision makers, including the Child Welfare Executive Leadership Team and the State Supreme Court Improvement program, which aims to improve the justice system to benefit families and children.
“It’s important to make sure that when people are thinking about policies that impact young people they don’t forget about the young persons they are trying to help,” he said. “That’s why we need to have a young person sitting at that table who can say, ‘From my experience of going through foster care, this is what I think and this is what we need.’”
Over the past 4 years Ricardo has also encouraged his whole team to volunteer at a downtown Denver homeless shelter that serves the youth. In previous years DHS employees were volunteering on their own time, but this past year they’ve been able to do it as a work activity.
“We manage programs, but when we talk to the young people individually I think that makes a better connection for our team,” Ricardo said. “It gives us the reality that this is what our work is intended to impact. We don’t like seeing our young people homeless, but it gives us the gritty reality of what could happen and what is happening right now. I think it really re-energizes a lot of folks and it really connects our team.”
Ricardo is one of many dedicated employees in DHS who work hard to improve the lives of others.
“There are a lot of dedicated employees who are not in this for the money. They’re committed to changing lives in Colorado and particularly the youth in Colorado,” he said of his coworkers. “They make a lot of sacrifices in different ways. It takes a level of commitment to do this. It sounds cliché but I think that’s the truth. It takes a high level of commitment to try to make a difference in the lives of the youth of Colorado.”