CASA offers hope for youth in need

More than 400 county youth in foster care
By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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Some 400 youth in Placer County will spend Christmas day in foster or group homes, according to Don Kleinfelder. Kleinfelder is executive director of Child Advocates of Placer County, which handles 127 foster youth cases. Right now, the organization has 103 volunteers, who are making a difference in the lives of these youths. Sara Tetzel of Applegate is one volunteer, who became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Tetzel has been a positive influence on 15-year-old Nadine Ochoa. Ochoa bounced around to five different group homes in 11 months before her case was settled last year. Even though Ochoa’s home is in Auburn, one of the five facilities where she stayed was in Riverside, south of Los Angeles. It’s not uncommon for foster youth to spend time in multiple group facilities, Kleinfelder said. “We have a case where one boy has been in foster care since he was 18 months old,” Kleinfelder said. “He’s been in 25 different homes, which isn’t uncommon.” There is currently a shortage of foster homes in Placer County and about 360 new foster youth enter the program every year, Kleinfelder said. Volunteers like Tetzel go through 30 hours of rigorous training and are sworn in as court appointed advocates upon completion. The training covers legal issues about neglect, abuse, the legal system and family. Advocates take an oath to maintain confidentiality about case details even after the case is completed. While Ochoa’s case was ongoing, Tetzel and Ochoa could not discuss it. However, Ochoa’s case was finalized in 2007. Tetzel and Ochoa were interviewed Monday, but still could not reveal case details. “We advocated for Nadine to go back home,” Tetzel said Monday. “That’s what she wanted and that’s what’s best for her.” On the day before Thanksgiving in 2007, Ochoa was reunited with her mother Roxanne Morales and two brothers, ages 14 and 4, and a younger sister, 9, in Auburn. Ochoa, a sophomore at Del Oro High School, expressed gratitude for all the help she received from Tetzel. Ochoa still gets together at Starbucks with Tetzel for coffee, conversation and support. “She’s done a lot of stuff for me,” Ochoa said. “She’s helped me advocate for myself.” Going to the Placer County Dependency Court at age 15 can be an intimidating experience and Tetzel was there to represent Ochoa. “She wrote a court report for me and then set up a meeting for me,” Ochoa said. “Then two weeks later, I was home.” This was Tetzel’s first case as a volunteer and the outcome encouraged her. “In this case, I saw that I can really make a difference,” Tetzel said. “I wanted to volunteer because I love children. I have four grown children.” CASA training can be intense and there were attorneys, a social worker and county counselor present, Tetzel said. “We spent time observing in court and we got sworn in to be an officer of the court,” Tetzel said. Ochoa was fortunate that her case was resolved. “Some cases resolve in a year, but others are never resolved,” Kleinfelder said. Children with volunteer advocates are more likely to be adopted and more likely to be reunified with their birth parent, according to Kleinfelder. Also, a child who has volunteer support is less likely to re-enter the child welfare system. “About 20 percent of our volunteers are male and more than 50 percent of the foster youth are boys,” Kleinfelder. “We really need more male volunteers.” How to Volunteer Call (530) 887-1006 for details. Next orientation class – 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m., Jan. 8 How to Donate Visit Web: Funding 60 percent - from corporate & private funds 30 percent - individual donations 10 percent – government grants