In honor of National Foster Care Month, AYPF is featuring the stories and advice of four young people who were in the foster care system.
Physical, mental, and emotional abuse are the three main components that brought me into the Illinois child welfare system twice; once at the age of one and then at the age of fifteen. Born in March of 1993, I am now a twenty-two-year-old female who has struggled but maintained a stable life both entering and exiting the foster care system in March 2014 at the age of 21. Born as Dani (Danay), I currently and independently reside in Champaign, IL with the support of my paternal family. Since my time in the foster care system, I have been involved with sex trafficking, unwanted sexual abuse, and unhealthy relationships with older men. I have experienced eleven different placements including, traditional foster care (4), kinship (1), residential (1), group home (1), hospitals (2), transitional and independent living programs (1).
Being in the foster care system has changed me mentally and emotionally. Lack of self-confidence and maturity were two main challenges that I faced before exiting the child welfare system. With these challenges, I entered into the drug and sex trafficking world, ran away, and become involved with men who were physically abusive. These barriers caused a long term effect on my life when dealing with relationships, education, and existence. Love is the only passion that I never felt or learned when my parents were supposed to show and teach me. The lack of love placed me in situations where I thought abuse was love. I carried this “knowledge” from the age of fifteen to twenty and I still have not learned the true meaning of what love feels like. While love is important to me, so is education but with a GED instead of a high school diploma, I believed that school was not for me. I felt like having a GED was not as important as a diploma when my situation was between two options – get a GED or attend high school for another year when I only needed two more credits to graduate. I pursed higher education after obtaining a GED because education is important to me and I wanted to prove to myself that I was worth more than what I bargained for. I am currently struggling to attend college given that I owe fines to a community college in my location, despite the fact that the state was supposed to pay for these fines since my caseworker expressed her opinion to the state that I should not continue. I dropped all my classes and am currently not enrolled in any courses. My goal with this current situation is to work multiple jobs until I can pay off the fine and pay for classes. Education is very important and I plan on majoring in public policy and social work in order to live the dream of improving the foster care system in my state as well as others.
My paternal aunt, who is more like a mother, is the only person that I look up to as a role model. She has overcome many obstacles in her life as a non-foster youth but her dedication and determination is what led her to be a Department of Children and Family Services’ licensing administrator for daycare facilities throughout the central region of Illinois. She has inspired me to change my appearance and understand the ethics of life including love, education, sense, and stability. She has remained by my side through my trials and tribulations and with her support, I know that anything is possible. Life is still a struggle since I have exited the foster care system and am currently living independently. One difficult factor that I am still facing is the ability to finish college. My plans are to continue my education and find a job where I can support myself successfully until I enter into my career as a policy specialist.
Policy makers and advocates should understand the struggle that a youth goes through before they exit the system. The complications do not always happen after they age out. Education and stability are the two main challenges that all youth face. It is the reality of not having family or a support system to help you when you need it most. Please understand that factors of life happen and we all make mistakes. Help us learn and become educated on what it means to be successful in adulthood. A cry for help is expressed in many different ways in every youth you come across.