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Couples serve together at Child Advocates of Placer County

Orientations, training scheduled
By: Courtney Bunz, special to the Herald and Press Tribune
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Placer County statistics

• There are about 370 abused and neglected kids each year going through Placer County Juvenile Dependency Court.
• There were about 196 youth who dropped out of high school in Placer County and more than 4,000 were arrested.
• In 2011, 221 substantiated cases of child abuse for children ages 0-5 were reported in Placer County.
~Source: CASA Placer

Upcoming orientations (choose one of the following dates)
Monday, Sept. 23: 6 p.m., 11641 Blocker Drive, Auburn
Monday Sept. 30: 11641 Blocker Drive, Auburn

30 hours of training; classes 6-9 p.m. Must be able to attend all dates: Oct. 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30. Court observation 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31.

Info and registration: http://casaplacer.org or (530) 887-1006

Bill and Betsey Hirsch have seven children and 13 grandchildren, and both worked with kids for years at the California Youth Authority. The Hirsches are not strangers to the rewards of working with youngsters and the positive impact a caring, reliable adult can have on the life of a child.

Five years ago, when the Hirsches were new to the area and both retired, they were eager to find volunteer work where they could both help make a difference. After reading a newspaper article about the works of Child Advocates of Placer County, they felt it was the perfect opportunity for them to get involved.

“We knew the full-time responsibility of fostering children wasn’t quite right for us, but we definitely wanted to help in that way,” Betsey said.

So, in February 2009, the couple went through the 30 hours of training and became Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) for Child Advocates of Placer County.

Both Bill and Betsey ended up taking on cases with young boys. Betsey remembers: “Bill enjoyed attending George’s (not his real name) sporting events and helping him overcome struggles at school. It was obvious that George liked having a fan at his games and appreciated the support. Bill was also a reassuring presence for George and his family as they went through the court process.”

Betsey’s first case lasted two years and was a bit more difficult, logistically, as her CASA youth (“ James”) moved through three different home placements and even went “on the run” for a short time.

After spending time together so consistently, James began to really look forward to seeing me,” Betsey recalled, “it was a truly positive experience for us both in the end, and I was even able to help him navigate the long, uncertain task of getting to his high school graduation.”

When George’s and James’ cases closed, the Hirsches each took on their next case, where they were able to work together even more closely. They were paired with sibling children in Kings Beach. It was a bit of a drive for the Hirsches to see them, but they agreed the added benefit of going together as a couple allowed them to make the most of their travels while spending more time with the kids. Once again, they grew close to the children and continued advocating for them all the way through to a successful “case closed.”

Currently, the Hirsches are finishing up a CASA case with a family who has many children living in the home.

“We have attended family meetings and happily watched them learn to resolve problems and overcome obstacles,” Bill said. “It is incredibly rewarding to watch a family develop necessary skills and become a happy, healthy, functional unit ... being a part of this is something we will always treasure.”

With each case they have taken, the Hirsches have learned to navigate family dynamics, barriers to education and child counseling necessities, as well as how to assist social workers and the wrap service teams. Each case has taught the Hirsches a great deal about “the system,” they said and revealed the overwhelming need in Placer County for this kind of work. Not to mention, it has all contributed to what has been a growth experience for them as individuals and as a couple.

"We have thoroughly enjoyed the chance to work together on something outside of our home,” Bill said. “The experiences have brought us closer together and made our relationship stronger.”

"We are always searching for more quality volunteers, like Bill and Betsey, to keep up with the increasing need for Advocates and Mentors in our community," said Kathryn Hart, program director for Child Advocates of Placer County. "We hope readers will consider attending one of our September orientations and enrolling in our October training class."

Courtney Bunz is development director for Child Advocates of Placer County.