Fostering My Own Aspirations

By Jessica Maxwell

Before foster care, I lived with my grandmother, my uncle jessica-maxwell-Largeand my older brother. I can’t remember exactly what age I was, but as a young girl I decided I would be a lawyer. I lived in poor communities where drugs, hunger and homelessness were normal, and I wanted to help people who were unable to help themselves. I was encouraged to excel in life. I had goals, and I genuinely loved learning.

Then my life began to take a terrible turn. My uncle was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and became paralyzed. My brother was arrested for selling drugs, and my grandmother began to suffer from depression. My uncle was hospitalized for his illness, and shortly after we became homeless. My life had fallen apart right before my eyes.

At 13 I went into foster care. I felt abandoned, and I began to lose hope in myself, and God. Over the next three years I lived in about eight different group homes. Some had as many as 22 girls living there, others had as few as three. The staff were generally all the same, unsympathetic to the tragedy of my life. I began to suffer from depression. I no longer recognized myself. I wasn’t motivated to do anything, and skipping school became a daily routine. I was kicked out of my first high school for cutting classes. The school said that if I didn’t care enough about my future, why should they?

By the time I was 16, I only had 8 credits, and needed 44 to graduate. While my behavior had improved, my educational aspirations seemed far from achievable. My perspective began to change when I enrolled in my fifth and final high school. On the first day of school I met my guidance counselor, who was kind and straight forward. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life and who I wanted to be. I was stunned. It had been so long since anyone paid attention to me—a young person who once loved to read, explore, and who had big dreams. I told him that I wanted to be a lawyer, and he told me I needed to get better grades, graduate high school and go to college.

While I still didn’t have my family encouraging me to succeed in life, I had finally found self-determination. I saw HOPE. I knew I had the ability to succeed in school and I wanted other people to know too. I had everyday reminders from group home staff that “foster care is temporary,” and that soon I’d have to take care of myself. I didn’t want to be kicked out on the streets at the age of 21 with no education, no home and no hope for the future like many of the other young people I knew that left foster care.

In order to graduate on time, I went to school days, nights and Saturdays, worked part-time and studied relentlessly. I was so behind that good grades no longer came easily to me. I did graduate. And afterward I went on to college, and continued on to receive a Master of Science degree from Hunter College. I spent five years rushing through college and grad school, until I finally realized that it was not important to try and catch up with my peers. I was now ready to enjoy my achievements and go through life at my own pace. I no longer compared myself to other young people my age. My goals were for me, and I now was happy with me.

Today, I work as a Youth In Care Coalition coordinator at the Children’s Aid Society. I am leading the way to improving the poor outcomes for youth aging out of foster care. Although law school wasn’t the right place for me, I am still helping people in need by giving a voice to young people in care. Undeniably others’ motivation helped, but believing in me was the most important component to my success. I wish for all young adults in care to know thatYOU are the creator of your future, and foster care doesn’t have to be the negative part of life that you write off and hide.

Published on May 4 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.