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Children's Receiving Home ex-counselor hears charges

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 1:00 pm

The former receiving home counselor arrested Wednesday on suspicion of sexually abusing a 16-year-old client made a brief court appearance Friday.

Theresa Gooch, 24, appeared stone-faced as she was arraigned in Sacramento Superior Court on charges that include molesting a minor, oral sex with a minor and attempted oral sex with a minor. Gooch's sister, Courtney Gooch, clasped her hands and cried during the proceeding.

The suspect is "a hardworking person," said her aunt, Dolores Sparks of Clarksburg. "She didn't do anything wrong."

As Judge Joseph Orr read the charges, the chamber was packed with media, along with half a dozen friends and relatives who showed up in support of Gooch. She remains behind bars in lieu of more than $250,000 bail. The court has appointed her a public defender.

Sacramento police arrested Gooch on Wednesday after a monthlong investigation, alleging that she "inappropriately touched" a 16-year-old girl who was staying at the Children's Receiving Home of Sacramento, where Gooch worked.

Police allege the abuse occurred between September 2012 and February. Authorities are not releasing the name of the victim because she is underage.

David Ballard, the CEO of the Children's Receiving Home, declined to comment on the case Friday, citing the ongoing investigation.

The group home on Auburn Boulevard terminated Gooch on Thursday in wake of the allegations, according to licensing documents obtained by The Bee. She had been on administrative leave since June 21.

The state Department of Social Services, which regulates community care facilities, announced that an exclusion order had been imposed on Gooch. The order prohibits her from employment at any facilities licensed by the department, DSS spokesman Michael Weston said.

The state agency cited the Children's Receiving Home but did not impose any restrictions, Weston added.

The case broke open when a mandatory reporter at the receiving home — a worker required by law to report known abuses — obtained "irrefutable digital evidence of the conduct," said Stewart Katz, attorney for the 16-year-old victim. That included photos, text messages and emails.

The nonprofit Children's Receiving Home is licensed to serve 98 youths. On Friday, the facility had 63 children in its care, according to DSS.

"It's a temporary place for kids to live while they are awaiting another placement," said Carroll Schroeder, the executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, noting that the average stay at receiving homes is between a week and a month.

The advocacy group has 120 member organizations – including the Children's Receiving Home – that serve vulnerable youths across the state. Most children living at the group homes come from situations of neglect and abuse.

In the past three years, the Children's Receiving Home had one other case of an employee engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a client, licensing documents show. In that incident, a staff member admitted to "having a close relationship" with a resident and spent time in the resident's bedroom, the documents said.

In a written statement, Ballard said, "The staff did have some boundary issues which were addressed."

The Children's Receiving Home employs about 135 and has more than 70 volunteers. Programs are largely funded by local governments.

Sacramento County has contracts with the Children's Receiving Home totaling more than $2 million for services that include temporary emergency shelter for children and outreach activities, according to county officials.

Schroeder noted that employees at youth facilities go through extensive background screening before they are hired.

"And then you get this situation. … It's terrible for everybody," Schroeder said.

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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