Child Advocates: Providing guidance for youth in foster system

Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
Jacqueline Moreno, right, a teen in the foster-care system, receives support from Los Altos resident Jeannie Conner through Child Advocates of Silicon Valley.

In and out of the foster-care system from the age of 2, Jacqueline Moreno did not experience a carefree childhood.

In eighth grade, she attended school when her mother would allow. Usually, Moreno was too busy taking care of her four younger siblings while her mother slept off a night of partying.

But Moreno, now 18, was blessed with persistence and a desire for a better life. Although she attended only a quarter of her middle school classes, she graduated with straight As and received the only scholarship her school awarded.

After eighth grade, Moreno and her siblings were once again forced into foster care. The foster-care system is complex, with many different therapists and social workers appointed to oversee the welfare of the child.

Child Advocates of Silicon Valley pairs adults with children in the foster-care system to provide a voice for children in the courts and to guide them through the complicated process of being a dependent of the state.

A little more than a year ago, Child Advocates volunteer Jeannie Conner, a Los Altos resident, walked into Moreno’s life and helped her deal with a difficult problem regarding her living situation. They ended up in court, with Conner offering Moreno support through the process. But their relationship has blossomed beyond their courtroom collaboration.

“A lot of foster youth don’t really have a person they can go to,” Moreno said. “A lot of them don’t have relationships with parents or their families. It’s hard because you are alone a lot. So having an advocate fills in that hole, and you actually have someone you can go and talk to.”

Moreno explained that though there are many people looking out for children in the foster-care system, they are paid to do so. Conner is different because she volunteers to help, Moreno said, making their interactions more “comfortable.”

Moreno moved around a lot during her high school years, with Conner beside her to shepherd her through her graduation and help her transition to college. Moreno currently attends Foothill College.

“She can help me make decisions,” Moreno said of Conner. “It is so easy to make the wrong decision. I know she is there because she wants to be, and I know she will give me the best advice because she really does want what is best for me. I’ve learned a lot from her.”

And the relationship isn’t one-sided, either – Conner said she has benefited from her time as a Child Advocate as well.

“I love watching how well she is doing,” Conner said of Moreno. “It is such a pleasure getting to know her. Knowing what she has gone though, she is an inspiration to me. She is very much a part of me, and I think she will be for many, many years.”

Child Advocates plans to use contributions from the Town Crier Holiday Fund to help recruit and train new volunteers like Conner, with an aim to serve more children in Santa Clara County.

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