Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
By all accounts, Dana (not her real name) is a model student. The 17-year-old high school senior is scheduled to graduate a semester early. The U.S. Marine Corps has accepted her into boot camp to prepare for service. An articulate and thoughtful young woman, she is involved in the Vietnamese Student Union, the Filipino Club and the school choir.
Dana’s accomplishments belie the six tumultuous years she has spent in the foster care system, frequently shifted from school to school and family to family. In elementary and middle schools, Dana said, she “didn’t care much about education,” which was reflected in poor academic performance. During her high school years, she has attended three different schools as a result of her unstable home environment, which forced her into foster care.
What was the impetus for the transformation in Dana’s life? Six years ago, when she entered the foster care system, Child Advocates, a nonprofit Silicon Valley-based organization, intervened to support her case. She met Ineke Ligtenberg, a retired ESL teacher and Los Altos resident who serves as an Advocate. The Court Appointed Special Advocates are trained to counsel foster children and advance their interests in court, serving both as friend and personal mentor. For many young people, the assistance of an Advocate can make the difference between a life characterized by constant movement from one foster home to another and a life with a loving and supportive permanent family.
During the process of counseling and forming relationships, Advocates become trusted adults, often offering parental guidance. Dana and Ligtenberg have developed such a rapport, exchanging easy smiles and laughter as they recount shared experiences.
“I talk to Ineke like my mom,” Dana said.
As a result of Ligtenberg’s guidance, Dana’s academic performance has improved significantly, allowing her to graduate early and pursue her dream of serving in the Marines.
Reviewing the past several years of her life, Dana said, “When Ineke came in, I saw that I needed to change - to care more about my education, to keep in contact with my brothers and sisters and to figure out what to do after I finish school.”
Dana is just one of many individuals whose lives have been transformed through the work of Child Advocates. In fact, while only 50 percent of foster children nationwide complete high school, 85 percent of Child Advocates’ high school seniors earn high school diplomas or the equivalent.
By recruiting and training Court Appointed Special Advocates to serve the best interests of its child clients, Child Advocates has assisted more than 15,000 Silicon Valley children in their transitions to a stable home and more positive future.
Child Advocates Executive Director Karen Scussel said Town Crier Holiday Funds go directly to general support – recruiting, training and aiding advocates.