Beating The Odds

By Samantha Smith

Samantha570Not too many people understand the impact of being taken away from one’s biological family and then put in foster care. It’s not easy, being introduced to a community of new teachers and friends that you have to get to know, in the face of losing something so important to you. It would be bad enough to be uprooted one time but when you’re taken out of that setting suddenly, numerous times, it causes separation anxiety, depression, and many other mental illnesses.

I know because I was in foster care most of my life. There were times when I’d come home from school and my bags were being packed. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my old friends, and this would happen about every six months or when my foster parents simply didn’t want to deal with me anymore.

When I entered junior high I also entered what finally felt like “Home!” During the 7th grade I had to move to yet another placement and I asked my social worker for permission to travel to school by myself. I live in Brooklyn, NY. My school was located in Canarsie and at the time I was placed in Coney Island, so I had to wake up at 5 a.m. and leave by 6. That’s a long commute, especially for a 12-year-old, but because I was surrounded by great people in school it was worth the journey.

In high school, I sort of paved the way for myself, and I wish that I had other people rooting me on to go further. Don’t get me wrong, there are resources available to us, but they can be hard to access. I was in contact with the college advocate at my foster care agency, but he also had everybody else to deal with and it was hard to get his time. Still, I was fortunate to have an amazing social worker who received frequent emails from Lawyers for Children–they send out information about non-profits that help college students, specifically with education, funding and becoming an adult.

Even so, days before handing in my college application I still wasn’t clear on all the services that were offered to me. Starting a four-year school was scary, and at the advice of my social worker, I started out at a community college. The only downfall of my college experience is not having resources that were owed to me as a youth in foster care, like college funds, housing options, mentoring programs, tutoring services and college readiness workshops. This was mainly due to cutoff dates, because the information wasn’t readily accessible. As a result I wasn’t eligible for aid that would have benefitted me, and was frequently stressed about my tuition.

On top of that, I never felt welcomed in my foster homes, and the thought always loomed that I only had one strike. “Normal teenagers” have conflicts with their parents all the time, but they just hash it out. When I had those issues with my foster parents I always feared while in school that my bags could be packed when I reached home.

There was a bright side. I was part of program called Accelerated Study for Associates Program (ASAP), which helps you get your degree on time. I had a private guidance counselor and student advisory help. They gave me monthly metro cards and book vouchers. That helped me in a big way, and allowed me to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

But there was still aging out. I was 22 when I left foster care because I was given an extension under a policy that allows you to stay with your foster care agency until you get your apartment, while you obtain your degree. Mine couldn’t find a home for me—I was too old for my previous placements, and they had nothing else available. That left me homeless. I had a lot of supportive people in my life, so sleeping on different couches wasn’t the biggest thing that affected me. It was the broken promise of adequate housing. I’m trying to do something positive with my life, but how can I attain my education when I don’t even have a place to study?

As you can see, making it through college was a process, and not an easy one. Still, it’s something that I knew I had to do. All my life everyone told me what I couldn’t do. But I’m actually the first of nine kids to graduate high school–and college, with my bachelor’s from John Jay. I am currently a social worker, focusing on elder abuse. I’m also a FosterClub All Star; FosterClub is an amazing organization that has provided me with numerous opportunities that have made me into the advocate that I am today.

So my message to my brothers and sisters in care? DO IT. Go to college. It’s scary. Everything that you’re unfamiliar with is scary. But you’re going to find so many new things about yourself and learn to advocate for yourself. And once you obtain your degree it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s something that foster care can’t take from you. It can rob you of your sense of stability and self-worth, but it cannot rob you of your education once you’ve earned it. And that’s more powerful than anything.

Published on May 30, 2017 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.