My Journey from foster youth to college graduate0
My early childhood was fairly normal. I lived with my mom, stepdad and older sister in Santa Barbara. My mom was a surfer, so most of my childhood was spent at the beach. When I was eight years old, my home life started to change. Around this time, we moved to Santa Maria in order to save money. Unfortunately, our housing situation was stable for only about a year before we started living in and out of homelessness, often sleeping in our car. When I neared adolescence, my stepdad left and it was just my mom, sister and I. Dealing with issues I didn’t know about it, my mom was in and out of jail, leaving my sister and me alone for stretches at a time with only my mom’s probation officer to check in on us. I have never known why my mom was in jail and never asked because her absences started to become part of my normal life.
One day when I was in seventh grade, my sister and I returned from shopping with my sister’s boyfriend to a phone call from my friend’s dad telling us that Child Protective Services was looking for us. Over the next several days, my sister and I would be placed into Emergency Shelter Care by CPS. At the time, my friend’s family assured me that once they got back from visiting out of state, they would take us to live with them. Because of this reassurance, I wasn’t really nervous to be in foster care so suddenly. But after a week or two passed, I realized we were not going to live with my friend’s family, nor were we going back to live with our mom. Suddenly everything hit me. I just remember being in a courtroom listening to the judge and crying because I had no home.
Over the next six years while in foster care, I would live in seven different homes and be placed into four different schools. Foster care is difficult for a lot of reasons. It’s hard to explain to your peers what being a foster child means. It’s hard to fit into different types of homes and cultures. And it’s hard to find consistency and stability when things always feel like they’re changing. But probably the most difficult part about being a foster child is how often you feel like you don’t belong anywhere and that at any moment, the door will be closed on you and you’ll have to find another place to live. This kind of instability makes you feel worthless and unimportant.
Even though it was difficult, there were some things that I really appreciated about foster care. For one, being placed in different types of homes afforded me the opportunity to live with a variety of people, cultures and ethnicities, and this kind of exposure helped me to become more accepting of others’ differences, as well as giving me a desire to travel and visit more cultures. And secondly, all of the different homes helped to teach me discipline, love and gave me a strong a sense of family.
In high school, I met my boyfriend and eventually got pregnant with our first son. Unfortunately, our relationship wasn’t the most stable, and we were on and off over the course of many years. It was also during this time that I transitioned into FCNI’s Transitional Housing Placement Program (THPP)—a program for foster youth ages 16-18. THPP was a very supportive program, with workers being heavily involved in many aspects of my life. I met with my Youth Development Specialist once a week or more and we would also hold monthly meetings with all of the foster youth who were involved in the program to provide each other support and work on developing better life skills. This level of involvement from other THPP kids and staff helped me to understand that I was not alone—that there were other people who were in similar situations to mine which was comforting and encouraging.
Despite whatever struggles I was going through in my personal life, I never stopped pursuing my education. After graduating high school, I got a job and enrolled in Alan Hancock Community College. Once in college, I found myself pregnant with my second son. I also learned that I had been accepted into Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo as a Childhood Development major. I knew how difficult it was going to be to continue my education while also being a single mother of two young children without support—paying for rent and staying on top of my bills felt very overwhelming.
For support, I contacted my workers at FCNI to apply for the Transitional Housing Placement-Plus Program (THP+), a program that works in partnership with the Department of Social Services to provide support services to former foster youth ages 18-24 as they work towards self-sufficiency. Being a part of THP+ was a huge relief for my family and me. While the program covered my rent, internet, gas, car maintenance, counseling and home necessities, it also provided me with amazing emotional support.
As a single mom going through college, life was stressful. And without help from THP+, I feel like reaching my goals would have been close to impossible. At one point, I grew worried that my THP+ services would end before my college graduation as the program only goes until your 24th birthday and I was due to turn 24 three months before graduation. But thanks to the leadership and advocacy of Tracy Schiro at the SLO County Department of Social Services, my services were extended which helped me earn my four year degree!
This past June, I graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor degree in Child Development and am now working at FCNI as a Rehabilitation Specialist. Amazingly, I feel like I have come full circle. My next goal is to get my masters in social work and continue working in foster care. I eventually would like to work at the policy level to help effect real change for foster youth. I am already really encouraged by the current improvements being made in this County to help provide foster youth with more stability—matching youth with more permanent homes and providing them with extended services. I really want to help other foster youth realize their potential and increase their confidence. I hope to make a positive impact in the lives of these often overlooked youth, just as so many others made a positive impact in my life!
[Author: Raquel, FCNI’s 2015 Benefit for Kids’ Youth Speaker — To learn about FCNI Foster/Resource Parenting opportunities, call: 805-801-9746]