A Broken System and an Unbreakable Will

By LaQuana Chappelle

LaQuana-LargeI came into the child welfare system at 12 years old, and I had no idea what to expect. I suffered severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of my mother and stepfather; as a result I began to run away from home. This only led to more troubles, as by the time I entered foster care I had already been raped and sexually assaulted by people I thought were my friends. Needless to say there was no safe haven for me, and my mind had been programmed to believe that if I didn’t hurt others, I would be the one getting hurt.

I entered my first group home placement and was immediately dubbed the name “Sheba,” short for She-Beast; I had emerged from my toxic shell a very violent and angry little girl. Having my mother abandon me to this concrete jungle surrounded by wild animals had turned me into one. I was transferred from group home to group home, fighting everywhere I went. No one sought to understand me and no one cared. It’s disturbing that workers stood idly by and watched as pimps targeted young girls in the group homes. I had a “swing first, ask questions later” mentality. Because I dressed like a boy the pimps didn’t bother me, instead they paid me to beat up other girls.

In foster care, even our most basic needs went unmet. Nobody cared enough to keep up with our doctors’ appointments or made sure we were in school. I spent most of my teenage years in a procession of uncaring, unruly, unstructured New York City group homes fighting for survival.

Then, on May 11th, 2003, my best friend committed suicide as I slept next to her. She told me she was really depressed and the pain wouldn’t stop. The next morning I found that she had overdosed on prescription medication. My entire heart crumbled into pieces, and I began to withdraw from the world. I dropped out of school, had no hope for the future and no will to live. Even with these circumstances, no one did anything to get me the help or services I needed to flourish and move past this. The staff did however get me locked into a psych ward, and doped up on medication just so they didn’t have to walk around in fear of me.

After spending nearly a year in and out of mental institutions, I decided to start getting my life together. I realized that the same world that had beaten down my friend until the point she killed herself could NOT beat me in the same way. My fighter spirit had begun to put me on a positive trajectory. I obtained my GED at 17, and began to look into options for college.

Through this, I was very lonely and in search of the love and companionship I never had. I found myself pregnant with my daughter, Alexandria. I had Alexandria in September 2006 at 19 years old and by January 2007 I enrolled in college. My daughter motivated me to set the bar higher, and although her father, who had promised to be there, was not, I could care less. Having Alexandria was the most joyful feeling in my life.

I had gotten my act together, yet the Administration for Child Services continued to fail us. They didn’t get me child care services, they didn’t provide any assistance with anything whatsoever–and when it came time for me to age out in December 2008, Alexandria and I were homeless. Although I had stable employment and a college degree, due to negligence in planning, my daughter, my son (who I gave birth to in 2009) and I had to live in a shelter.

Today, in 2013, I am fighting to advocate for young people like myself. I feel no young person should come out of foster care and face homelessness. I currently work with the Child Welfare Organizing Project and Legal Aid Society to build better initiatives to aid young people in foster care. I have developed a supportive housing program, which may save a lot of young people. I know one day people will know my story, and I pray every night that I can help change a system that is so broken.

Published on May 18, 2013 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.