In Court, Everywhere, She’s There for Kids


Courtrooms are rarely places you’re free to cheer out loud. But in Juvenile Court last week, there were cheers all around, and more than a few tears, when a single woman from Yorba Linda formally adopted two young brothers she’d been caring for.

Sitting in back, out of the limelight, was Carol Bradley of Newport Beach, clutching two little bear houses with stuffed bears. She’d give them to the boys in celebration once the paperwork was over.

“Isn’t this just wonderful?” she said, her eyes glistening.

Bradley had helped make this day happen. She’s a CASA.

She’s a volunteer with the county’s Court-Appointed Special Advocates, which is known as CASA. But Bradley says the volunteers just naturally adopted the name and call themselves CASAs too.


Bradley isn’t just any CASA. Everyone involved agrees she’s special. So enormously talented, in fact, that at a black-tie gala on March 3 in Newport Beach, Bradley will be honored as Volunteer of the Year.

To give you an idea of her contribution, a CASA usually takes on about one child per year. The volunteers work with foster families to see what their needs are in taking care of a foster child. Bradley has been assigned 10 children since she began four years ago.

“We are the advocate for the child,” Bradley said. “We’re there to help, not pass judgment.”

Maybe the best testimony on Bradley’s behalf comes from the parents she deals with. The Yorba Linda schoolteacher who adopted the two brothers last week wanted to make sure I understood their relationship.

“She’s marvelous,” the woman said. “Ever since I took in the boys as a foster parent, I’ve had to deal with social workers and therapists monitoring every move I’ve made. But Carol is the one who’s there for me, to see what I need.”

The brothers, 3 and 5, had come from an abusive home. In two years’ time, they had been in seven foster homes. Just try to imagine that kind of life for a pair of youngsters who couldn’t understand why they weren’t still in their own home.


They were sent to the Yorba Linda teacher’s home about 10 months ago. The woman couldn’t bear the thought of them not having a permanent home, or worse, perhaps being split up. So she decided to adopt them herself, with Bradley’s help.


But not all endings are so happy. Only three of the 10 children Bradley has worked with have been adopted. Others continue in foster homes, and not always in the best of circumstances. Some foster homes, CASA officials have told me, aren’t compatible with problem children.

Bradley has been assigned a 16-year-old girl who has seen a dozen foster homes already, and that number could get higher before she becomes 18 and is “emancipated” from the program.

“Ideally, we’d like to see them reunified with their original families,” Bradley said. “But sometimes you just can’t. The child abuse that goes on in this county, well, it’s just big. Really big.”

CASA, a private agency that works with the county, takes only court-appointed cases--about 500 a year. It has more than 200 volunteers to work with them. But even that’s not enough.

In January, the waiting list of children the courts wanted to assign to CASA stood at 218. At times it climbs past 300.


In part, says CASA director of development Jean Remmer, that’s because not just anyone can become a volunteer.

“It takes a very special person,” she said. “It’s just incredible what we ask them to take on. They commit to a child for two years, but really, it’s a commitment for a lifetime.”

What’s heart-wrenching is that Remmer says the majority are “career foster children.” They never make it to a permanent loving home.

And so the CASA workers do what they can to make them feel special. They take them to parks or zoos, to places where they can try their hand at computers. They make sure the youngsters get to the dentist, and oftentimes they just listen to them talk about their week.

And Bradley is a great listener. A career educator, she is also on the board of the YMCA of Orange County, and was a founding board member of the Bienvenidos Children Center Foundation in Los Angeles County, where she was director for three years. She also volunteers with the Orange County Human Relations Commission as a dispute mediator.

But it’s at CASA, she said, where she sees that she can make a difference in a child’s life. Bradley and Remmer both want me to point out that although Bradley’s the one being honored, hundreds of Orange County residents have been dedicated CASAs over the years.


“We love Carol, but she typifies so many in this county who are dedicated to helping children,” Remmer said.

The other day I was talking with former county Supervisor William Steiner, who now works for the national board of Childhelp USA, based in Arizona, and who has spent his career working with children in foster care. I asked his perspective on how effective CASA volunteers actually are.

“I’d hate to think where some of these children would be without them,” he said.

Also being honored at the CASA fund-raiser, to be held at the Sutton Place Hotel, will be Richard Gadbois, senior vice president of Merrill Lynch.

Gadbois, who will receive its “Children’s Champion” award, has not only been active with his time, he’s also been a major fund-raiser for the agency, which relies mostly on private donations.

Also honored will be Deputy Dist. Atty. Nat Glover, who works with the court system’s child abuse services team. He’s also vice president of the California Assn. of Professionals Against the Abuse of Children.