Samantha entered foster care at two years old when her mother, struggling with drug addiction, was no longer able to care for her and her siblings. By the time Samantha turned 21 and aged out of care, she had spent time in five foster homes, one group home, two residential treatment facilities, and a Supervised Independent Living (SIL) program. "Growing up in the foster care system was tough," Samantha says. "I didn't always feel like I was part of the family that I lived with and felt like no one understood what it was like to be in foster care."
After I graduated high school, I started working as a Youth Advocate for Juvenile Law Center ... I talk and write about my personal experiences in the child welfare system to lawyers, judges, and other people who work in the foster care system. By speaking out and talking about my experiences, I feel like I have the power to change things.
Fortunately, in middle school, one of Samantha's teachers encouraged her to write, which became an outlet for her to express her feelings. "For a long time, writing was easier than talking," she says. "Writing helped me figure out how I felt about my experiences in foster care and allowed me to talk about it with others." Samantha's increased confidence in communicating her feelings also led her to take part in a high school mentoring program for young women to talk about issues affecting them. "We had open conversations about our feelings. Participating in those conversations and debates taught me to speak up and voice my own opinion," Samantha says.
Samantha now regularly voices her opinions about the child welfare system and advocates for change as a member of Youth Fostering Change and Youth Speakers Bureau. She has been recognized both nationally and locally, in her hometown of Philadelphia, for her advocacy work as the recipient of an Outstanding Young Leaders award from FosterClub and as the keynote speaker for the Northern Children's Services 2012 Award Ceremony (read her speech here).
Samantha and her son, Zy'keem, currently live in a mother-baby program—"It's more stable and safe than anywhere else my son and I could have gone," she says—and she believes these programs, along with parenting classes, need to be available to more teen parents in the child welfare system. She is planning to pursue a college degree in psychology and work as a peer specialist.