I have been playing catch-up my whole life. I’ve had to navigate a family that has multi-generational trauma. My family grew up in the tail end of the Jim Crow era and segregation, where they were forced to enter through the back of the restaurant or drink from different fountains. My grandmother and mother got disappointed looks for being Black single mothers in America. Stories like theirs are rarely heard but heavily mocked on television and film, painting them as the angry Black woman.
Moreover, Black women are routinely abused, assaulted, and murdered, and their names are mentioned for mere moments until the news cycle finds something better. They are forgotten and disposable in America. These women, like myself, have to deal with the generational trauma of systems of the past while dealing with today’s more covert systems that continuously hide behind policies and structures that keep people of color and immigrants in a cycle of poverty and away from the American Dream they so desire.
I have also faced and overcame a myriad of barriers to higher education, more than most of my peers. As a former foster youth, I grew up in a very dysfunctional household where asking for help was seen as weak and dangerous. No one knew about the abuse I was receiving. This made it hard for me to ask for help, especially in an academic setting. This was one of the difficult lessons I learned while going to school: no one can help if they don’t know you are struggling.
It was also challenging to obtain accurate information on how to apply for colleges, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and obtain fee waivers to be able to apply for college, as well as receive guidance on writing a strong essay that encompassed my K-12 journey. This was extremely difficult to navigate because I was going to be a first-generation college student. My mom dropped out in 11th grade, and my dad dropped out with just a few credits shy of his high school diploma. College was overwhelming to figure out while taking a vigorous load of courses. Therefore, I relied on adults through my school or through foster youth programs.
Even when I was accepted to college, I came across additional barriers. I didn’t have any money saved to go to college. No one in my family had money, which meant I had to rely on the financial aid given to me through federal student aid and student loans. There were times where I had to work full time while going to school full time and trying to fill in the gaps in my education. Learning how to navigate applications and obtaining funding was a steep learning curve, especially without the proper guidance. Thus, this year, I advocated at a Governor’s budget meeting twice for increased funding for schools to ensure that all high school seniors in the state of California fill out the FAFSA before graduating.
Because of the completed reunification with my mom, I wasn’t able to receive the same services that those who age out of foster care receive. I couldn’t receive much needed scholarships, wasn’t able to access housing programs, and struggled with the transition to adulthood because I wasn’t given the tools to be a successful adult from my parents.
If I could make one change to the foster care system, it would be to include all children who were placed in a foster home to qualify for Independent Living Program (ILP) services (also known as extended foster care). Unfortunately, if you don’t age out of the system at the time of your 18th birthday, you don’t qualify for these vital services, including housing support and monthly funds. For example, if a young person was in foster care from 14 to 16 years old, then goes home at 17, they are under the reunification umbrella and don’t qualify for AB-12. This is unfortunate because that young person will need these services as they approach 18 but will be unable to access them.
These services are vital for former foster youth where the numbers are stacked against them. Less than 10% of foster youth will earn a bachelor’s degree, only 50% will graduate high school, and nearly 50% of foster youth will become pregnant and have a child by 19. Foster youth that age out of the system are making some of the lowest wages in the country, with the average wage of less than $6,000 a year. Foster youth experience adverse effects because they are often subjected to abuse, neglect, and unsafe living environments. If a child had to be placed in foster care, they deserve access to these services. Just because a foster youth goes home doesn’t mean they heal from trauma or have the life skills that a normal and functioning household would give them to go out in the world and become a well-adjusted adult. Just because a foster youth goes home doesn’t mean they need fewer services and support than someone who aged out. I hope to continue to advocate with organizations to bring awareness to this issue.
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