Hello, my name is Crystal, I am 20 years old and am currently in extended foster care. My journey with mental health started when I was 6 years old and I entered foster care at the age of 15.
Until I was 8 years old, I lived in a domestically violent household where both of my parents suffered from substance abuse. During this time, I experienced neglect, physical and emotional abuse. I then moved into a guardian’s home where I was sexually abused for four years and emotionally abused for the duration of my time there.
My experience with service providers during this time was challenging due to my inexperience with consistent, healthy relationships with adults. However I remember one therapist where there was trust and security established in the relationship. This specific therapist set the foundation for my hope with future service providers.
By the age of 15, I had developed severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and began utilizing negative coping skills to not feel anything including substance/alcohol abuse, self-injurious behaviors, and sexually exploiting myself. During this time, my experience with service providers expanded as I entered foster care. I had a handful of social workers and a CASA worker. During the first year, I didn’t have much hope for my future as I didn’t think that I deserved a happy, healthy future; however, this is when Family Care Network provided me with something that I will never forget; hope.
I had an Independent Living Program worker who never gave up on me and was present for me when I couldn’t even be present for myself. We met every month to complete a budget, develop independent living skills, and figure out the complexities of applying to college. This ILP worker changed my perspective; she taught me that all I have to do is keep showing up for myself and if I did this, then my future could be anything that I wanted it to be.
I graduated high school in the Spring of 2018 and began college at Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo in the fall of 2018. Through my college experience, Family Care Network has provided me with skills that have aided me in understanding college complexities including financial aid, budgeting, and educational skills. Family Care Network also helped me in developing social and emotional skills. It wasn’t until my early adulthood that I began taking care of my mental health with the support of a service provider. I began developing coping skills, understanding how to form and maintain boundaries, how to develop and engage in self-care strategies, and how to manage my trauma.
I have been working in the Full-Service Partnership (FSP) program at Family Care Network for a little over a year now, and have seen the impact of this program for many youth and families. My role in the FSP program as the Youth Partner includes sharing my story to youth and families to aid in normalizing their experience and connecting the youth and family to community resources to further expand their support networks. My role also includes providing interventions which redirect and prevent inappropriate behaviors including cognitive behavioral interventions. Additionally, my role as a Youth Partner includes being a nonjudgmental, honest peer who empathizes and listens to youth and families while advocating and acknowledging that there are different strategies and solutions for every youth.
I have witnessed the impact of FSP in many different youth and families. I have seen families where they too experienced hopelessness and through the wrap-around philosophy of FSP, we were able to be consistent and provide support for the family and youth until they were able to have hope themselves. FSP’s impact can also be seen in other ways, such as a client independently utilizing a coping skill to regulate themselves, a client advocating for themselves, or a client effectively forming and maintaining a healthy boundary.
Every day that I spend with my clients, as much as I support, teach and transfer skills to them, there is also reciprocity in regards to them teaching me and enhancing my skills. Knowing that every client is different, it is the team’s and my responsibility to be creative in the strategies that we wish to implement in order to support the client in reaching their treatment goals. The FSP program not only impacts our clients and families but has also made an impact on me and my mental health. Through being a Youth Partner, I have found new coping skills for myself, have learned how to be a better self-advocate, and have enhanced my knowledge of independent living skills and community resources.
My journey through life and my experience with service providers has been a roller coaster; however, I am grateful for the FSP program for providing me with a means to make an impact in our clients’ lives and utilize my experiences to normalize and support the youth and families in San Luis Obispo county.