From Foster Youth to Fostering Independence: A Youth Partner’s Journey

Sandra Gomez, FCNI Youth Partner
December, 11, 2018 -

Hi, I’m Sandra, a new Youth Partner at Family Care Network. I’m a good fit for the job, because I have been in the foster care system since I was thirteen, and I’ve utilized many of the programs that Family Care Network provides! I have been in Emergency Shelter Care, multiple foster homes, received Wraparound services when I was living with my mom, and also participated in the Transitional Housing Placement Program prior to and after turning eighteen. I also utilized the Independent Living Program throughout many of those years. Through my work at FCNI, I now have the opportunity to share a lot of my story and experience with new hires and our foster parents. I believe that my experiences can teach so much to others who are in the Foster Care System as well as those who work in it.

I remember very vividly my experiences in being placed in Emergency Shelter Care. I had some negative influences in my life at the time, and I decided to run away, got into trouble, and ended up incarcerated at Juvenile Hall. My probation officer and county social worker were working really hard to find an appropriate placement for me, and I didn’t know where my new placement was going to be. I felt that I had no family or home to depend on. My previous Emergency Shelter Care foster mother decided to give me a second chance and let me come back into her home. I remember the day my social worker told me, “You’re going home!” and I was so surprised. My shelter foster mom could have said that she didn’t want me back, but she gave me a second chance and that is something I will never forget. Since then, we have continued to stay in touch, and her influence and positive outlook have made a huge difference in my life. Her grace towards me showed me that she viewed her position as a foster parent as not just a job, but that she truly cared about what she was doing and the kids placed with her.

Another person that has impacted me throughout my life is the Rehabilitation Specialist who worked with me throughout my teen years. She has seen me grow, and taught me a lot of life skills. Part of who I am today is because of her. And now that I am a Youth Partner, we get to be coworkers and friends--I never saw that coming! She really did push me and empower me, and accompanied me and kept working with me no matter what program I was in or which foster home I lived in. The consistency of her support throughout the different phases of my life has been very grounding for me.

Being in FCNI’s Transitional Housing Programs was really great because leading up to being independent at age eighteen, I needed a lot of help learning how to do pretty much everything. Suddenly, I was on my own without a mom or my foster parents telling me what to do and how to do it. I remember that this was a really hard transition for me, having to learn to live independently and do everything on my own. Getting away from that dependence on parents or caregivers is really hard. One thing that would be helpful, is if youth were more involved in learning how to take care of themselves earlier, as well being exposed to more life experiences and given more choices rather than having foster parents and workers decide and do everything for them--they could learn so much! Foster parents and Social Workers need to teach youth more life skills earlier on, like how to budget money for their monthly needs or make their own appointments.

I am very passionate about ensuring that foster youth are provided enough opportunities to learn independent living skills while they’re young. If they don’t have a chance to learn all of these important life skills when they’re younger, it’s going to put them at a huge disadvantage when they turn eighteen and don’t have as much support. I remember the day when the Independent Living Program opened my eyes to all of the life skills that I was lacking. Everything was done for me when I was in foster care: my laundry, organizing my transportation, cleaning and cooking, etc. Pretty much every life skill I could have learned was done for me, which left me really unprepared for independent adulthood. The Independent Living Program bridged this gap for me, and provided me with more hands-on experiences and learning opportunities when I was still in foster care.

Unfortunately, when a youth is in the foster care system, they can be overprotected to the point of not being allowed to make normal teenage mistakes in order to learn from them. Every last thing has to be approved by a judge, and this level of control sets youth up for making even bigger mistakes when they suddenly have total freedom. I learned a lot of things the hard way. For instance, I had my electricity turned off once because I forgot to pay my bill. I never picked up or opened my mail, and definitely did not want to open or pay bills. I learned the hard way that stuff gets shut off when you don’t pay for it! I once almost got in trouble for writing a bad check, because I was only eighteen and didn’t know that when I changed my bank account number, I had to change my checks too! I wish that there had been opportunities when I was younger to figure these things out and even to make some mistakes.

I just finished my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice this past summer, and completed an internship at the Courthouse. After finishing my studies and internship, I decided to pursue the Youth Partner position at Family Care Network because I wanted to utilize my skills and experiences and even share my story to help youth in foster care. Thus far, I’ve gotten to help a few youth through the process of resolving speeding tickets or other similar issues, teaching them that they can ask for community service rather than paying fines and showing them how to advocate for court dates that are best for their schedules. I’m helping the youth I work with to know their rights and the different laws in place to protect them, and how to empower and advocate for themselves. I’m also working with a lot of young girls who are first time moms or pregnant. Having gone through all of this myself, I have a lot of supports and resources that I’m able to share with them.

I’m interested in working with youth in Juvenile Hall and maybe becoming a Probation officer in the future. I’m on a great journey, and just excited to be in the Youth Partner position at FCNI because of all of the learning and experience i’m sharing and gaining.

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