I remember the first day the judge told me, “You will be going to JCCA,” which provides foster care in New York City. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I felt like the system was robbing me from my home, mainly I felt empty & confused. As I left the courtroom, there were two staff members standing right there with the cops. I knew instantly they were taking me so I gave my grandma and my son a hug and I left with the two staff members. We approached a van and I remember one of the staff asking me my name. I simply ignored them because I had nothing to say. All I could think was why didn’t I listen to my grandma or what could I have done better for me not to be put in this situation?
We arrived on campus and everything looked beautiful until I saw the kids coming from school. There it’s almost nothing to be said when you have eyes. I remember the staff telling me, “Stay to yourself, don’t follow behind nobody!” The staff looked at me as I cried and told me this won’t be easy. I did everything in my power to follow rules and regulations. I just didn’t like how some people were being treated so I went “awol” which is basically running away from the facility or out of the program. In most cases, you reach a certain amount of awoling and they will place you in a more secured facility. I would “awol” but I definitely made it back for school. Eventually, OCFS (the Office of Children and Family Services) took me off the campus and brought me to a wonderful placement called St. Christopher’s. From there I knew it still would not be easy, but I also knew when I arrived on that campus it did not have to be hard either.
While in the NY child welfare system, I wanted to feel safe, comfortable, respected and not neglected, and St. Christopher’s made me feel all of THOSE above. They taught me independent living skills, helped me manage my money, got the counseling I needed, and taught me that there’s more to life.
Eventually, I left and went into an independent living program called Children’s Village. They taught me numerous things but I had to leave because I got pregnant with my second kid. As a result, I became homeless due to the program rules of me being a liability, which I understood. However, it was difficult for me. I felt I spent all those years in the system, and to leave having nothing, not even a place to call home, caused me trauma.
I believe there are a lot of things that need to be worked on that get overlooked as it relates to the New York child welfare system. The policies that should influence change and development of foster youth actually do the opposite once you age out or make life decisions, such as not terminating a pregnancy. I really believe the actions of the system once I became pregnant failed me when it should have provided me a platform to a pathway of success. I almost believe if I had terminated my pregnancies, I would have been welcomed and received the resources I needed.
Once I aged out of care, I wasn’t able to put my aftercare money towards an apartment which was weird to me. Due to the policies, because I was homeless with a baby, there was no housing available to me. I also strongly feel the other issues that impact foster youth, such as when the kids are aging out, there should be a plan for them including housing – especially if they have no family or nowhere to call home. I feel that education should be a priority. I also feel like these people should start hiring staff that genuinely cares for these children instead of a paycheck. I personally gained a lot from being in care. I just wish we had a little more help, but nobody said it would be easy!
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