Hundreds gathered on a large lawn at The Biltmore on a recent Friday afternoon for a cause that remains dire in our community — the 500 children trapped in the foster-care system in the county. And about 150 of those are estimated to be two years old or younger.

Dedicating the last eight years to putting a dent into that figure is Meichelle Arntz. Arntz’s first glimpse into the child-welfare system was as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteer several years ago. In court, she had represented two little brothers, who, after bouncing from one foster home to another — up to seven in one year, she speculated — suffered severe instability and attachment issues. So with a background in pediatrics, Arntz opened Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara in 2006 to place very young children in stable homes; 153 babies have since been placed.

Though foster parents in the public system can take in up to six children at once, Angels parents care for only one child or one set of siblings. Angels parents sometimes adopt the child, possibly eliminating them from the pool of available foster-care parents. “There’s always going to be a need,” said Holly Casady, who has a foster child, an adopted child, and two biological children. “Word of mouth is the best way to [spread awareness],” she added. “We knew we wanted to do this.” In the foster-care realm, the goal is always reunification between a child and his or her biological parents, a decision that’s ultimately up to a judge.

Arntz explained that 79 percent of Angels parents adopt the first child in their home. Of the 36 who are ready for school, all but two were kindergarten-ready at age five. (And the two started kindergarten the next year.) Arntz added that 100 percent of the children adopted were showing age-appropriate attachment behavior, she said. “It’s not like we’re just looking at stats. But good stats mean you’re impacting human beings,” she said, adding that Angels ensures kids stay in the home in which they are placed. “It sounds rational, but it’s not what has happened,” she said. Last year, Angels could not take in 32 babies because we were full,” said Arntz. “This keeps me up at night.”

For more info about Angels, call (805) 884-0012.


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