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O ne of every 11 children in Tulare County has been the vic- tim of some form of abuse or neglect. About 900 children live in Tulare County's foster system, most of them young- er than 5 years old. One-third of those children are represented by a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Tulare County in Visalia. But in the Porterville- Lindsay-Strathmore area, just a handful of chil- dren were represented by CASA while another 50 were placed on a waiting list as they strug- gled with life away from their parents. "This community has been underserved for a long time," said Paul Moore, executive director for CASA of Tulare County. "We consistently have between 50 and 100 kids in need of ser- vices in this area, but only three or four active volunteers." Moore said the drive from Porterville to Vis- alia for child advocacy training has long been a deterrent for volunteers in the southeastern portion of the county. But a new location in downtown Porterville should help CASA fulfill its mission to be the voice for all children who are victims of abuse and neglect. On Sept. 5, CASA opened its second location in Tulare County in the Porterville Chamber of Com- merce's building at 93 N. Main Street, Suite C. Moore himself has been an advocate for six years. After a career in addiction, domestic violence and teen pregnancy counseling, Moore decided to work with younger children in an effort to pre- vent them from becoming the adolescents and adults who needed help later in life. "There is no consistent mentor in their life," Moore said. "In most cases, we are the only people in their lives who are not paid to be there." Foster children must deal with frequently changing home placements and unstable living conditions. Some of them even experience un- safe foster homes where they experience more abuse. These injurious experiences often lead children to engage in hostile or risky behaviors and ultimately some experience negative out- comes later in life. Three-quarters of them will fall behind in school. Half of them will never receive a high school diploma and will be un- employed by the age of 24. One-third of them will be on public assistance, a quarter of them will become homeless and fewer than 3% of them will earn a college degree. Those startling statistics are what prompted Anthony Maldanado to join the ranks of more than 150 dedicated volunteers who make a dif- ference in the lives of 350 children each year. Since taking up the cause to bring CASA to Por- terville a year and a half ago, Maldanado said he has recruited more than 20 volunteers to help a growing number of children in the county. In the last 20 years, Tulare County has seen a 21% increase in the number of reported child abuse cases while the state average has only increased by 3%. Tulare County foster kids find a Home in CASA Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Tulare County open a second location in Porterville to serve growing list of foster children in the south county area t e x t a n d p h o t o g r a p h y b y r e g g i e e l l i s "There was a glaring disparity of kids in the Porterville and Lindsay area and we only had a few advocates active here. This is a whole new resource for a part of the county that has not been served properly." ANTHONY MALDONADO COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATE, CASA OF TULARE COUNTY MINERAL KING PUBLISHING INC | FSGNEWS.COM | 7 PEDIATRICS/CHILDREN'S HEALTH

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