23-year-old Edgar Carranza is a former foster kid and a foster youth advocate working with Georgia EmpowerMEnt. This week, Edgar addressed CR supporters in Atlanta, describing the realities and impact of living in state care.
I was thrown into foster care at age 13 when my father was deported. Up to the day before, I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t even say good bye to everyone—my step-mom was at work when my caseworker came to get me, and she didn’t know what was going on. It was awful.
People need to understand that youth do have families. A lot of us are not abandoned. I had family who would have wanted me, but they were scared to go to the agency because they didn’t have papers. What is the logic of putting kids in care when they have loving families who lack only one document?
Q: What was it like for you in care?
For a kid my age, I handled it well, but there’s a reason why people become troubled in the system. It’s almost like you lose your identity—you become a number. I was in a group home—15, about to turn 16, I think—and the owner only gave us canned food. It wasn’t a jail or a prison, but it felt pretty close. For me, the people or places weren’t so bad, but there was trauma that resulted from institutional living. The lack of privacy, not being treated like an individual—it makes you feel like an animal in the zoo.
Q: And yet you say your experiences weren’t so bad.
I only had three placements. My younger brother, on the other hand, had more than 40, a lot of them lockdown facilities, and was put on a whole bunch of psychotropic medications. Our caseworker would promise to move him to an independent living program when his behavior improved, but when he progressed, he was told there was nothing open. That would cause him to act out more, and he’d get blamed for the shortcomings of the system. Now he’s in prison.
Q: So, you’re two brothers with totally different stories.
Yes. In in a weird way, I was fortunate. I did pretty well in school. I was senior class president, and I got a full academic scholarship to Syracuse University. A lot of people, including me, thought I had it made. I wasn’t counting on how isolated I’d feel once I was out of the system, or the guilt I’d feel about my brother. Why did I get so much attention during high school, when he needed it most? I ended up dropping out of Syracuse. I had this sense of not being worth the opportunity—being able to build my life while my brother is losing out on his. I’m still working on getting over those feelings.
Q: You’re now an advocate for other kids in the system. If you could leverage your experience to inspire one change, what would it be?
I want to ensure that young adults have all the support they need after state care. The effects of Post-Traumatic Stress aren’t always immediate. In my case, there wasn’t enough emotional support at the college phase. It’s like, “You made it to the point we wanted to make us look good—later.” They gave me the ingredients to make a cake, but didn’t tell me how to bake it. Now I’m getting back on my feet. All I can do is talk about my experience and hope it makes it better for someone else.