I’ve Always Had my Voice

In a single lifetime it is amazing what obstacles can be overcome and the successes that reveal themselves. Being taken away from my home at the tender age of ten gave me a 1st hand account of State Dependency.  I can personally say State Dependents cannot escape the system or how others view them. Foster care meant constantly paying for the mistakes my parents made at a very high price. I no longer had a Mom and Dad, I lost out on having a childhood, I was often judged,  I moved from home to home, I was stripped of everything I knew,  and I moved from school to school.  I was forced to live my life as a State Dependent; however, I turned my life into a success.

Being a State Dependent made me pay for my parents’ mistakes. Both of my parents made bad choices which lead to significant family problems. My Mother and Father were both drug addicts long before I was born. After my arrival the drug use worsened; my Father used drugs to calm his schizophrenia, and my Mother used drugs just for the high. As years went by, my Father became a raging alcoholic. He began to batter my Mother until her face was purple and his hand was red and swollen. My Mother did not just stand there; fights would break out daily between them until my Mother threated to call the police if he did not leave. After my Father moved out, my Mothers’ drug use continued. When she didn’t have money for drugs, she looked the other way while her friend took a payment he felt was just. In many cases I was the payment. My mother did many of things to make me feel she did not love me. Each time my Mother would enter a relationship things seemed good, until the drugs over took both of their minds. I have been beaten with a hose, cooking pan, thrown into walls, thrown through a window, pushed out of a moving car, and so much more. My Mother would put it out of her mind, and act as though the abuse towards me did not exist.  My Mother always went shopping whether or not she had the funds. She got away with shop lifting for a while, but ultimately she was arrested and we were removed from our home. 

Being a State Dependent took away any hopes of getting the chance to have a childhood. Since age 7, I was forced to stay home and be a mother to my younger sister. I didn’t go to school, I no longer had friends, and I had to grow up much faster in order to gain the knowledge necessary to fend for myself and a young infant.  When my two sisters and I were taken away, my social worker said nobody would want three girls. I used my voice to make it very clear that I did not care what happened to me as long as my sisters stayed together, it did not take long for me to wish I had not said it. Because I did not only miss my family, but I missed being able to protect them and spend time with them.

Being a State Dependent offered justification when others judged me as if I was psychotic. Altering the way my teachers, mentor, peers, and paid staff looked at me.  When asked how the comments made me feel, I tilted my head back and laughed heartily. Cringing inside from nervous laughter, I retreated into my mind, sometimes running away at top speed, and then as I open my eyes, I turn and walk away like stars on the red carpet. How many people could handle being raped in their Mother’s house and know nothing was done to bring their rapist to justice?  After this horrific incident I was the subject of an uncomfortable interrogation.  I was made to feel like a common criminal.   I was also made to relive my ordeal by recording two videos of the incident forcing me to say all the devastating details of what he did to me step by step, over and over for law enforcement. After this incident I began to care not how I look to others but how I look to myself.

Being a State Dependent stripped me of my identity, my freedom, and my family. The only things the system gave me were a county judge and a court appointed social worker. A judge cannot visit me and sooth my hurt or discomfort. When I was 12, I was placed at Polinsky Child Center. The neighborhood was not well known to me, making it hard to plot an escape route. I was denied the privilege to communicate with, or see any of my family members. Without my family I felt lousy, and I did not really know what to do. I chose to be defiant because I was very angry. I would try to make deals with my social worker. I would be good, and in exchange, I was allowed to see members of my family and talk to them. When denied, I would do anything rebellious to make her rethink her decision and I did not care how I looked to other people. Once you become a State Dependent it becomes stamped on your forehead for everyone to know, for everyone to see, without the option to hide. I would run away on a daily basis, but no matter how far I ran I could not change the fact that I was still a foster child.

Being a State Dependent was not something I was proud of; I lied about my life to all of my (so called) friends, with hope they would never know the truth. In eight years I lived in 14 different placements (either in a foster home or a group home) and went to over five different high schools. When moving to a new placement I used my voice to fight for the right to attend public school. No matter what school I was attending I always expressed how I didn’t want to be treated any differently.  One very exciting and interesting event took place in my life on August 10, 2007, the day my case was terminated by the Juvenile Court System of San Diego. I shall never forget overflowing with joy and happiness.  I am not a drug addict. I am not an alcoholic. I am not homeless. I am a high school graduate. I am employed. And I am chasing my dreams. I beat the statistics of a foster child making me the person I am today. Through all my hurt I learned to take all the bad and use it to fuel a better tomorrow. I would like people to see me as accomplished. I beat everybody’s doubt and negativity.

After being a State Dependent I turned my life into a success story.  I still have times where I struggle with flashbacks of my childhood but, then again, I am only human. I am a college student, a mentor, an intern with The County of San Diego, a P.R.I.D.E. speaker (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education), on the HYPE board (Helping Youth Pursue Excellence,) and a new member to the CAI Youth Board (Children’s Advocacy Institute).  I am a former foster youth who wants to make a difference in the system, to help current youth know that there are options, and provide resources to succeed. I am no longer a victim of the system, I am a survivor.

When dealt a sour hand in a game of cards, the option is always there to redeal the cards. However, in life we do not get that option. It is truly amazing how many obstacles can be overcome and how many successes can be revealed in a single lifetime.  I was treated horribly while I was in the system, and I was only there because of my parents. I have finally escaped the stereotypes and negative views due to the foster system. I have since been reunited with my family. I aim to fix the system and help youth know what is available to them. While growing up in the system I just wanted to be loved and cared about. If I can offer a glimmer of hope to those who feel hopeless, my experiences will have meaning.

About the Author:
Helena Kelly is a passionate advocate for foster children. She spent several years of her childhood in the Dependency system and strives to improve the system for those children who will follow her. Helena is a college student, a mentor, an intern with the County of San Diego, a P.R.I.D.E. speaker (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education), she serves on the HYPE board (Helping Youth Pursue Excellence) and she serves on the Children’s Advocacy Institute’s Youth Advisory Board.

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