Growing up poor in North Philadelphia to a substance-abusing mother took a toll on young Antonio. He and his siblings were constantly forced to move from one residence to another, preventing them from finding even a semblance of stability. Antonio remembers eating penny candy before school and dining on food from the McDonald’s dollar menu at night. Around his sixth birthday, his mother decided that everyone would be better off if she placed her kids in the child welfare system.
Youth Fostering Change ... is helping me deal with all the terrifying experiences I've had in the past in the foster care system. It not only heals me, but it makes me feel good every time my voice is heard.
Antonio relocated to a group home for boys in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, a situation that proved less than ideal. Not only was he one of the only African-American residents, but he was surrounded by older boys who engaged in criminal activity. Separated from his family and resentful of his circumstances, Antonio began lashing out as well and getting into trouble. Many foster youth struggle to adjust when pulled from their communities and placed in unfamiliar settings.
Although juveniles often enter the foster system to escape unsafe alternatives, the instability and trauma inherent to a child’s separation from his or her biological parent(s) can produce feelings of rejection, guilt, abandonment, and shame, which they often project onto their foster families.
At 16, Antonio moved yet again, this time into a group home in Philadelphia. While the proximity to his family allowed for regular visits, the relocation was not without its challenges: Antonio had to relearn how to live in an urban environment amid the constant threat of violence. Fed up with the instability, Antonio determined once and for all that he wanted a better life, and he knew the key to obtaining it was working hard at school.
Antonio in his current Philadelphia neighborhood
In 2009, Antonio joined Juvenile Law Center’s advocacy program, Youth Fostering Change (YFC), and he’s been a proactive participant ever since. Antonio calls YFC, which helps improve the lives of young people still involved in the foster system, “another home.” “Youth Fostering Change…is helping me deal with all the terrifying experiences I’ve had in the past in the foster care system,” he said. “It not only heals me, but it makes me feel good every time my voice is heard by someone in a higher-up position.” Antonio recently “aged out” of foster care after 17 years in the system. He is currently taking classes toward his nursing degree and hopes to one day raise a family of his own.