Monday, May 14, 2007

Permanent Families Matter

By Jessica Delgado, former foster youth, Pennsylvania

My early life was filled with chaos and abuse due to my mother’s drug abuse. We never had clothes. We had holes in our shoes and lice in our hair. We went to school and people would make fun of us. Caseworkers would come and check on my brothers and sisters and me and we would lie. Kids get scared when they think they might be taken away from their mom. At least we know what it is like with our mom.

At 13, I thought "I can’t live like this" and I ran away. Eventually I had to call social services about my family’s situation and we all entered foster care when I was 15. I spent some time with a foster family but ended up in a group home. When I turned 18 I was released from the group home with no permanent place to go.

Immediately after being released from the system my therapy was discontinued. I was left to get a job and take care of myself. I had not been prepared to deal with the outside world alone. I had no one to rely upon. I was afraid of what path my life was about to take. Wondering how was I going to make it on my own led me into a depression. Let me give credit to a counselor that I had in the group—she did temporarily provide me with a place in her home. Do to my emotional problems, I managed to disrupt that relationship.

One of lowest point in my life was when I turned 19. My depression had taken its toll on me, which then led me to alcohol. As far as a family, it was the local pub. Every day and every single chance I got I went there and drank. Holidays, I was at the pub. Along with drinking, tattoos and piercings were the out for my unhappiness. I was going downhill really fast. Eventually I got pregnant. What in the world was I going to do with a child? Barely knowing the father of my child just added more stress to my life.

After having my daughter Angelina and struggling for a few years, I’ve finally found a family in Angelina’s paternal grandparents. Phyllis and Derrick are like parents to me. They have accepted me as family. They provided Nina and I with so much support. Derrick helped me with my finances, and Phyllis still listens to me, encourages me to move on in a better direction of my life. I've learned a lot about living a more balanced life from Phyllis and a few other strong women. I have expressed to them that without their love, support, and encouragement, my life would have been a bitter story.

Thankfully, even with all of the struggles and abuse, my life has managed to turn around for the better. And now instead of alcohol being my out, speaking out about it gives me a more fulfilling and satisfying perception on life.

Through all of this, I realize that permanency is so important, and is probably one of the main factors of what makes someone feel secure and loved. I still can't understand why providing me with a family or support system was not a priority with social services during my time with them. Why do we seem to think that these children or teenagers who have been neglected, abused, or abandoned are ready for the real world just because of they are 18? Whether it's 5, 10,or 18 years of age, love, family, consistency, security, and patience are all an important part in shaping the type of people we will grow up to be.

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