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Child’s Haven Away From Home Opens in Camarillo : Foster care: Casa Pacifica’s much-heralded and long-awaited emergency program accepts its first victims of abuse.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hoisting plastic sacks and duffel bags full of their clothes, the two boys and their younger sister filed quietly out of the waiting room of the Casa Pacifica home for abused children and into the center’s sun-drenched courtyard.

“How long are we going to be here?” one of the boys asked Casa Pacifica Program Manager Frank Ferratta.

“I told them I didn’t know,” Ferrattasaid. “I don’t think they quite understand what this place is.”

The three children, all under 12, were recently taken from their parents’ home after authorities learned the youths had been physically abused.

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On Monday, they became the first youngsters accepted into Casa Pacifica’s much-heralded and long-awaited program for emergency foster care.

The program’s opening marked the last step in the completion of the $10-million, 22-acre center in Camarillo that brings together under one roof nurses, physicians, therapists and social workers to serve foster-care children.

Casa Pacifica opened its doors in June after nine years of planning and fund-raising by many of Ventura County’s elected officials and wealthiest residents.

A partnership between the county and a private nonprofit group, Casa Pacifica houses two types of foster care children: those just entering the system and those who have been in it for an extended period.

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Last month, Casa Pacifica launched its long-term residential program for children who have been in foster care for years, often bouncing from one home to another. The 13 youths in this program, which includes some who are severely emotionally disturbed, will live at Casa Pacifica for up to two years.

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The emergency foster-care program, which opened Monday, is designed specifically to take children immediately after they are removed from their homes because of physical abuse or neglect.

These youngsters will stay at Casa Pacifica for up to 90 days and usually not longer than one month, or no longer than it takes county social workers to find appropriate new homes for the children.

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One advantage of putting all such children at one center is to keep brothers and sisters together.

In the past, authorities would probably have had to separate the three youngsters who came Monday, because it is rare to find a private foster-care home with available beds, Casa Pacifica spokeswoman Tanya Gonzales said.

But Casa Pacifica has plenty of room: 24 beds for the long-term residential program and 50 for emergency foster care.

Monday’s three newcomers, however, seemed less interested in togetherness than privacy.

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Because they were the first in the program, they had their choice of beds. The older boy chose to take a room in a cottage for older children, while the younger ones decided they wanted their own rooms. Each room has two single beds.

After getting over their initial fears, it took the children only about 20 minutes to throw themselves into playing with the rows of donated games and toys that fill Casa Pacifica’s airy, carpeted playrooms.

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While at Casa Pacifica, the children will undergo examinations by staff therapists and physicians to determine the extent of physical and psychological damage.

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The results of those exams will help county social workers decide what type of long-term foster-care home would best suit the children.

Besides administering the physical and psychological tests, Casa Pacifica staff members have another goal for the children during their short stay in emergency care.

“The most important thing is to build them up and strengthen their self-esteem,” child-care counselor Kim Giles said. “We’re just going to let them be kids.”


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