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Caged Child Abuse Survivor Speaks Out

Cynthia Vasquez now in a unigue position to help neglected and abused children

Casa Pacifica success story now in position to help others

CAMARILLO, Calif. -  A child kept in a cage by the foster mother who adopted her more than a decade ago is now in a unique position to help other children like her.

Cynthia Vasquez,19, works at Casa Pacifica in Camarillo, the same center that helped her when she was an abused and neglected 9-year-old.

Casa Pacific CEO Steve Elson said she was one of the worst cases they've seen. " It was horrendous what she and her sister went through," Elson said.

Cynthia still remembers what it was like when she first arrived at the shelter. She remembers being asked if she was hungry and getting something sweet to eat.

Vicky Murphy, Casa Pacifica's Chief Advancement Officer and Director of Alumni Services, said, "This is a little girl that came to us from a cage she had lived in an animal cage in basement for years."

Cynthia said the first year with her foster mother included dance lessons, ice skating, and trips to Disneyland, but then everything changed.

Even though her foster mother received thousands of dollars to pay for Cynthia's care, she wasn't going to school.

"Eventually, it just went out of control," Cynthia said.

Court records described the case as made of plywood, about  5' by 4' with a wire mesh window. Cynthia said there were several cages, the first cage was outside, the third cage was in the basement.

"On the inside, there was a bed and latch so you couldn't get out, " she said.

Cynthia wasn't alone,  her sister and other foster children suffered the similar fate.

She remembers being kept on the edge of starvation. While court records said the children kept in cages were given peanut butter, Cynthia said she remembers eating raw eggs and being warned not to complain about it.

Her foster mother, Sylvia Jovanna Vasquez was a social worker and daycare provider when she adopted Cynthia and her younger sister.  Cynthia said Vasquez changed their first and last names.  She said she is in no rush right now to have it legally changed back.

Cynthia said she was told to behave on rare occasions when social workers visited their Foothill Road home.

"I thought maybe all kids go through this maybe it is a phase, I was expecting it to stop at some point, " she said.

She said a cleaning lady Sylvia Jovanna Vasquez threatened with deportation called the police to report the abuse.

During her Santa Barbara trial in 2007, Sylvia Jovanna Vasquez blamed parenting books someone had recommended she read that were supposed to help her raise foster children diagnosed with attachment disorders.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley was a prosecutor back then. With cameras in Judge Frank Ochoa's courtroom you can hear Dudley questioning Syliva Vasquez about the books.  Vasquez denied some of the abuse, but pleaded no contest to four counts of child endangerment.

Although she received a ten year sentence most of it is being served on probation.  Vasquez spent  less than a year in jail.

After almost a decade of therapy Cynthia said, "I have a job a car, I'm going to college, I graduated high school having missed four grades. I've worked hard to get to where I am and I'm happy."

When she asked for a job at Case Pacifica during a visit to the Camarillo campus Vicky Murphy hired her as a part-time office assistant.

Murphy calls her a resilient miracle.

Cynthia Vasquez doesn't shy away from telling other children they are not alone and that she knows what they are going through because she lived at Casa Pacifica, too.

"I've always had the saying, 'Don't dwell on the past,' you can complain, but that is not going to change what's going to happen, so it's always better to go forward," said Cynthia.

In the near future she hopes to transfer from Oxnard College to finish her bachelor's degree.  She wants to become an earth science teacher.

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