Q&A with a Former Foster Youth
There are lots of stats out there about the state of foster youth in California, including on our own blog. But these numbers never tell the full picture.
We recently chatted with M, a former AFS foster youth, to let her tell her own story about how she became a victim of sex trafficking and later entered foster care, along with what her experience in foster care was like, and what she would say to anyone considering becoming a Resource Parent themselves.
Please describe your journey with AFS.
I become a client of AFS when the County of San Francisco took me into their care. I needed to get out of San Francisco as soon as possible, and that is when the social worker found a family that was willing to take me under their roof. It happened to be that the family was working with AFS.
If you are willing, can you share what happened in your life?
I was 16 years old and living in Central America when my father offered me a job in North America as a nanny. That was my job back home. I was very desperate to help my mom and my sibling. I was willing to move miles away to have a better life for my family and me.
However, I did not know what my father’s real plans for me were. When I arrived in the U.S., there was no nanny job, and there was no family. Then, I realized my father’s plan. I knew I was in danger, and I was in the mode of, it’s them or is me! The people who were taking “care” of me stated that my dad was a crazy man, but that I was lucky because I was a young woman. They said I would have a life of a queen, and that the only thing I needed to do was to please my owner.
From Oklahoma, I begged my father to saved me. Somehow, due to my father’s connections, I ended up in San Francisco. He told me that he didn’t mean to hurt me and that he never imagined the magnitude of his decision of sending me with strangers. And now I will be okay because his “friend’ would take a good care of me.
But, when I got the SF, I was welcomed as the woman/wife of that “friend.” I learned from my mother that my father got money from his “friend” – in short, my dad just sold me. I was not surprised. I knew my father was behind everything. The last time I talked to my father was before my 17th birthday. And I promised him that I will find my way out of this dead or alive. I knew if I wanted I different outcome I needed to do it myself. And I did.
With the help of my mother we found a safe place: my cousin’s house. And I promised myself to never talk about what happened to me while trying to find a better life in the U.S. But things change when those people found out where I was. My cousin was scared because they were threating her. She looked for help. She turned me in with the County of SF. I couldn’t understand why. I hated her for that because I thought that I went through hell to get here and now I am going back home, and I am pretty sure my dad will finally kill me. I thought that was the end. But, life gave me a second chance.
How did this make you feel?
My heart hurts knowing that my dad prefers money over his own daughter. I was in the market as a sex object, but it is more! It’s horrible to know that the person that is supposed to protect me in the first place is the one that destroys me.
What is the single thing you wanted most when you were in that situation?
I wanted protection. I wanted an honest hug from an honest human being, to assure me that everything was going to be okay and that no one is going to hurt me anymore because the person will be there to protect me.
What was life like before you arrived at AFS?
Life was hard. My mother, sibling and I worked hard to support our daily needs. But the horrible thing was not the hard labor, it was my dad. My dad was abusive to us. But we always managed to have a smile. Since I remember, I wanted to show my father that he was losing control over our lives. I challenged him, and for challenging him I ended up here in the U.S. – but eventually with a better life than what he wanted for me in the first place.
How long were you cared for and associated with AFS? What programs/services did AFS provide that helped you?
I was with AFS for 4 years. AFS helped me in so many ways: mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. First, I was placed in a home where I felt secure, where I knew that I was no longer in danger.
Second, I was emotionally unstable. AFS provided me with a therapist who helped me get back in balance with society. They provided me with a social worker that was there for me 24/7. Overall, AFS brought me back to life and gave me hope for tomorrow.
For what I went through, I was scared that someone would try to take revenge for exposing everything. I always looked over my shoulder. But my therapist, social worker and my foster parents assured me that I was not in danger anymore. I could not see it back then. I was so sure that my father or other people would hurt me or my family. But reality was that I was finally in a safe place.
Did you feel you were different than other children?
I did. I thought I was different because I was seeing a therapist, I was under medication. At school, when I met people I was ashamed to tell them that I was a foster child. One time, this girl at school asked me who I was living with. I did not want to say I was in a foster care system because I knew the next question was, “How did I end up in the system in the first place?” I didn’t want to tell them what I went through. So, I always said, “I am living with my grandparents” and changed the subject.
Please tell us about your foster parents.
My foster parents took me into their home and protected me as if I was one of their children. My favorite saying from my foster mom was “home is in our heart.” She is a genuine human being that was in the right time and the right place when I needed someone.
What kind of nurturing did you receive from your foster parent and AFS staff?
From the AFS team, I got financial, mental and emotional support. My AFS foster parents taught me how to trust human beings again.
How has AFS made an impact on your life?
AFS changed my life forever. They gave me a second chance. I was able to go on with my life knowing that the AFS team was there holding my hand. They prepared me for adulthood. AFS has an important role in this world because they are protecting innocent lives. They are present in the darkest moments. Without AFS, kids would not have a solid protection from the outside world because AFS work as a team to provide a better future for those of us in need.
What does your life look like now?
I graduated from high school in 2014. In Spring 2018 I graduated from community college with an Associate Degree in Business Administration. I am currently a Junior at California State University, East Bay under the Business and Economics program to earn my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/General Management. Had it not been for financial support and scholarships, it would have been impossible for me to continue my education. I am always going to be thankful for the support.
My first semester at CSU East Bay (fall 2018) was a success. It was not easy as a full-time student with a job (I work as a Test Administrator), but I manage to pull through. As for now, this is my second semester as an upper division student. I will be graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Business in May 2020. I am closer to my goal, which was just a dream few year ago. I am pursuing a career in Business Administration with a future goal to have my own business someday, locally and internationally, and help my family back home and anyone in need.
I am independent in every extent of life. And with a busy schedule I always manage to find free time for myself! During my free time, I love to read books. Reading has been a vital part of my mental recovery.
I go visit my former foster parents and their new foster children. We have Christmas together even though I graduated from AFS 4 year ago. My foster family always shares their emotional support with anyone in need. My biological family has finally moved to Mexico and started a new life.
And in 2016 I met my boyfriend. Through him and his family I have found the joy of enjoying the fun side of life. They have taught me how to water-ski, snow-ski and just take me on adventures that take my mind out of reality for a moment.
I can finally say that I have had found my inner peace. I am learning how to accept the inevitable and accept the past. I have made peace with myself. Society and I have finally found a balance in life.
One of my favorite quotes that I remind myself every time I find myself worrying: “God grant me with serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can; And the wisdom to know the difference” -Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr
If there is one thing you could say to appeal to anyone who is interested in becoming a foster parent, what would it be?
If you are genuinely interested in becoming a foster parent don’t overthink it. You are going to change a life in a positive way. The work is not easy, but the reward is a lifetime gift.
What do you think makes a great foster parent or adopted parent?
To be a great foster parent or adopted parent is to be a genuine and loving human being. Be caring. Have kindness and an open heart. Be willing to make a change in someone’s life. Have good values. Be understanding, family oriented, with dedication and selfless. And most of all mean it!
What ways can people help other than becoming a foster parent?
There are other ways to make a positive change in a child life such as: volunteer, donate, support a foster family, and/or become a court appointed special advocate (CASA).
Is there anything you’d like to share or a message you believe the world should hear?
“Be the light in the darkness.”