Story by Carrie Vining Spanier
Photos by Ian Spanier
Upon meeting Linda J., I was immediately struck by her confidence and overall presence. We spoke as if she had known me for years. She shared as if I were her confidant. Twenty one-year-old Linda, was thrust into the foster care system at the tender age of three. Born in Charlottesville, Virginia to a drug-addicted mother, she along with her four brothers and two sisters were scattered amongst the system when her mother decided she can no longer take care of them and left them at a friends house. From there, social services was called. Having been put together with only one of her siblings, a brother, they kept in touch but were not always placed together. Linda alone has lived in three or four different group homes, two Residential, and six or seven foster homes. Specific numbers are hard to get from her, as she clearly bounced around as a young child. The longest placement for Linda was a little over one year.
She has experienced more in her young twenty-one years than most in a lifetime, including abuse, becoming a runaway, and at age seventeen, giving birth to her four-year-old son, Lavontae. Her bond with her young son is the strongest and longest bond she has ever had with a family member. When asked how she feels about that, she responded, “I feel great, I already beat my mom.” Meaning she’s been able to care for her son longer than her mom cared for her. At age fourteen, Linda ran from a group home and officially became a runaway. It wasn’t until she became pregnant that she turned herself back in to the system. She was then placed in a home with other young moms and pregnant females and it was there she received a lot of support. Over the next few years, she requested to go back there three different times after she and her son were moved to a few different foster homes that in turn didn’t work out. Linda eventually met her mom and siblings at age eighteen. They keep in touch, however she speaks to her mother rarely. This past November, Linda and Lavontae moved into a shelter, and eventually into an apartment. They were on their own. Away from the system she ran from, yet also needed to survive. And now, because she is of a certain age, the system will no longer help her. After completing her GED Linda went to school and became a Certified Home Health Aide. She is now continuing her education and is training to become a Medical Assistant and has plans to also become a Licensed Practitioner Nurse. In a stunning turn of events, Linda recently met her Father, and learned he had no idea she was even in the system. Ironically, he, himself is a licensed foster parent. I asked Linda if there was anything she would change about the foster care system, she said, “Not all foster homes are good, there are a lot of abusive foster parents out there.” I can only imagine this is a piece of those years she was voluntarily out of the system. Despite the odds and through it all, Linda says she has had a lot of support and has kept in touch with one of her case workers, and even considers her a mother figure. Perhaps that is why she immediately impressed me with her strength and courage. -Carrie Vining Spanier
Linda is part of a program called the Nassau County Homelessness Prevention & Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) pilot program. The program helps Linda and other aged-out foster youth like her with housing subsidies.
There are many ways to help young adults like Linda. To help Nassau and Suffolk County youth, donate to Project Independence, the only independent living skills program for children in foster care on Long Island (both Nassau and Suffolk Counties). Visit the Project Independence page at Family and Children’s Org at: http://www.familyandchildrens.org/Project-Independence. They are also looking for volunteers.
Adopting a teen or tween is one of the greatest ways to help youth so they never have to age-out of the system. You Gotta Believe, based in Coney Island, Brooklyn, is the only organization in American that focuses solely on facilitating adoptions for older teens and tweens, the hardest to place kids in the system. Donate, volunteer, or become an adoptive parent at http://yougottabelieve.org/