A Chapter in My Life

By Ollie Hernandez

Ever since I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to become something great – whether it ollie-large-254x300was a doctor, a lawyer or a princess. It always seemed that I was meant to accomplish something big. However, life isn’t easy and, at a young age, I got thrown one hell of a curveball.

My entrance into Nevada’s foster care system is a blur. I was enduring abuse at home that at the time seemed normal to me. At 9 years old I became a ward of the state, and I literally had no idea what was happening. I ended up in a foster home where I felt quite content. Then when I was 11, my biological mother passed away and my relatives gained custody of me. But their home was not safe for me, and at 13, I went back into care.

After my mother passed away, I went through a long period of withdrawal that was filled with anger and angst, until I began to realize that I would have to step up and be a responsible older sister to my younger sister and foster siblings. I was the oldest and it wasn’t easy. I was often held to a higher standard than the other kids and had to sacrifice a lot of free time to help out around the house. As a result, I became a natural leader and still feel the need to take charge in my personal, academic and professional life.

In total, I spent nine years in foster care and I lived in nine different foster homes. The hardships – like moving around, being separated from my siblings and being on psychotropic mediations – were taxing. But I was lucky enough to have a fantastic group of caseworkers – whom I fondly refer to as my “soccer team of workers” – to help me through. They never gave up on me or my goals, even though there were times when I wanted to give up on myself. Despite being moved between homes, they ensured I stayed in the same high school for three years, until I unexpectedly entered independent living before my senior year.

I had been living in a particularly difficult home, where my foster parent wanted me to be somewhat sheltered from the outside world. All I wanted was to have a normal life, a reasonable curfew, visitation with my siblings and a normal sense of independence. Since my foster parent and I had different views of what independence was, my caseworkers and I decided that I should transition into independent living. I only had one year left before turning 18 and aging out of foster care, and we felt that I needed some real world experience.

Some teenagers would jump at the chance to live with a roommate and not have a grown-up supervising their every move. For me, however, it was terrifying. Between balancing grocery shopping, therapy, three Advanced Placement classes, an honors class and marathon homework sessions, I wasn’t sure if I was going to graduate on time. There were many times when I begged my caseworkers to let me drop out of school and get my GED or just switch to regular classes. But their answers were always no. When I fell behind, they held weekly meetings with my teachers, and when I graduated, most of my workers attended.

When some kids enter foster care, they just give up. But I was taught that foster care was just a chapter in my life. It wasn’t going to last forever. I should make the best of it. I’m thankful I did.

I aged out at 18 and I am earning my certificate in medical assisting. In the fall, I will be returning to a traditional collegiate setting to earn my Bachelors’ degree in International Relations and Arabic, with a dual minor in Conflict and Peace Studies and Women Studies. Eventually I would like to attend graduate school in the United Kingdom to earn a Masters’ degree in International Relations. Later on in my career, I’d like to work for a nongovernmental agency and research and report human rights violations and war crimes.

To all the current and potential actors in the child welfare system, the piece of advice that I have for you in order to make the foster care system better is to not treat foster youth like we’re disposable. Yes, we come from traumatic backgrounds, and yes, we may not be the easiest kids to raise in a loving environment, but the fact is, we are kids. All we want is a little love and understanding.

When foster youth receive guidance and love, we learn to let our walls down and let people in and, as a result, we learn to forget our trauma and become the people we hope to be.

Published on May 12, 2014 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.