I have been thinking about this so much lately and have been trying to find the words to use to support extending foster care to beyond 18 years old. Please forgive me if I ramble. This is so important to me.
At 17, I was an honor roll student in my senior year of high school. I had plenty of friends and a wonderful boyfriend, Nick. I was working part time as a hostess at a restaurant. I had plans to graduate high school and head off to college in Boston to begin my adult life. I had a bright future. My parents had raised a motivated and responsible daughter.
During early spring of my senior year, my life changed forever when I discovered that I was pregnant. I knew for sure that I would keep the baby and that my plans for the following year would have to be put on hold. I was embarrassed, disappointed and scared. I did not yet have a car or even a driver’s license. How was I going to get to my doctor’s appointments? How would I take the baby to hers once she was born? Where would we live? Nick was only in his junior year of high school. How would we work to support the baby?
But here's the thing. Although these were very real concerns, we didn't have to figure it all out on our own. At 17 we couldn't have. I am thankful every single day for the supportive families that we both had to help us through that time.
I was able to graduate high school with honors. Nick quit school and got a full time job. Our parents had said that they would do what they could to provide for us while Nick finished school but we wanted to be responsible and not depend on his parents financially. That was not an easy decision. I am happy and proud to say that Nick earned his GED sometime after this.
Throughout my pregnancy, Nick and I lived with his parents. They provided us with what we needed during this time so we could save money. Despite Nick's efforts to make enough money for an apartment before the baby came, I developed preeclampsia and had to be hospitalized at 34 weeks pregnant. A couple of weeks later our beautiful daughter, Lily was born at a tiny but healthy 5 lb 2oz.
While in the hospital, we did not know where we would go once we left. We wanted our independence but did not yet have the means. Only days before we were scheduled to be discharged, Nick and I got the best news. My parents had recently moved but still hadn't sold my childhood home. It was currently vacant. My parents allowed us to move into the house and pay only a small amount for rent while we got on our feet. By the time I came home with lily, all of our things were moved in and the house was furnished with gently loved housewares from our parents and extended family. When we arrived home, there was family waiting to welcome us, food in the refrigerator, and everything we needed for the baby.
Since this time, Nick and I have been able to lean on our parents and families so many times. It was because Nick's grandmother agreed to babysit my children that I was able to get through nursing school while Nick worked. So many times I have had to call on my Mom and ask for a loan or a favor. Our family is our safety net that has allowed us to spread our wings and take the leap. I am forever grateful for this and can only hope that I am able to support my children the same way as they reach adulthood.
Because of the support that we were given from the beginning, Nick and I have a beautiful family and a beautiful life. When I think of where we would've been without our family, it breaks my heart. You do NOT stop needing support at 18! We all need to do what we can to make sure that youth in foster care are afforded this same support. Their lives depend on it.
Nick and I at 17: