Season 1 / Episode 5
CRACK THE CONCRETE WHEN YOU WALKHow losing a mother when she needed her the most set this teen on the path to entering and aging out of foster care.
Experience what life was like for Jaquia Wilson, the youngest of nine children, who went from growing up with a loving mother in the Bronx to aging out of foster care without a support system. Jaquia demonstrates resilience through the tragedy of losing her mother, becoming isolated from her siblings, experiencing an abortion, and entering foster care. With a little help from a caring social worker, Jaquia’s fighting spirit leads her to college and, now, advocacy work for youth in care.
Meet Jaquia Wilson as she shares stories from her childhood memories in Bronx, New York. Jaquia recalls her mother, Lucy, being big on academics, etiquette, applying bible study to real life, and making sure her children didn’t spend time with “the wrong crowd of other youth”.
“Just because we were from the hood doesn’t mean we need to be of the hood,” says Jaquia on lessons learned from her mother.
At 13 years old Jaquia recalls having established a relationship with her mother where they sat down for a heartfelt conversation about Jaquia’s youth. Shortly after, Lucy’s health began to deteriorate after surviving a stroke.
“I only had two short years, really, of knowing my mom as my mom,” says Jaquia. Hear from Jaquia about the impact of experiencing her mom passing away in front of her on Thanksgiving in 2011.
Two days after Jaquia experienced her mother’s passing, Jaquia discovers she is pregnant.
“I didn’t know what to do,” says Jaquia, “I was 15 [years old] and my mom had just passed. My family had to figure out what to do with a 15-year-old that was expecting.”
What is it like to be a pregnant teen? Hear from Jaquia as she describes the array of emotions she experienced.
“I was really confused. At the time I had a boyfriend. He was dead set on being in the child’s life. My family is super religious, so abortion wasn’t an option. My family pretty much told me that I had to have [the baby],” says Jaquia.
One day after laying her mother to rest, Jaquia goes to live with her brother in North Carolina where she filed for a petition with the courts to gain independence.
“My brother told me he wasn’t going to support me if I decided to terminate [my pregnancy], but I didn’t want to bring a child into this world and not have anything to give them,” says Jaquia.
After choosing to get a judicial bypass to follow through with an abortion, Jaquia says that her family resented and rejected her, which catapulted Jaquia to enter the foster care system.
What happens when a teen like Jaquia enters the foster care system in North Carolina? Jaquia recalls her life-changing day in foster care and her sentiments on her circumstances.
“They took my cellphone and broke the camera, because we weren’t allowed to have phones with cameras attached. They took a lot of my things really,” says Jaquia.
Jaquia recalls that one of her main goals was to figure out what she needed to do to be stable and remain independent when the time came to leave foster care.
Who were the people in Jaquia’s life during her teenage years in foster care?
“It’s a little bit like a revolving door, I feel like,” says Jaquia. She recalls one sister being “the one family member who kept in contact” with her during her time in foster care as well as an influential social worker.
“I had a social worker who I really, really loved and adored, and I could see a lot of myself in her. And I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. And I remember having a LINKS coordinator who was equally as amazing as my social worker and who believes in the youth that she met and really helped us envision and see the bigger pictures,” says Jaquia.
North Carolina LINKS Program: A program created primarily for youth, age 18 to 21, and for other teens who were in foster care to build a network of relevant services and facilitate the transition to adulthood.
What did one social worker do in their day-to-day work to build a relationship with Jaquia? Jaquia on what her social worker did to establish mutual respect and friendship.
- “She always spoke to me like I was in charge and like I was human.”
- “When I told her what I wanted, she listened to me. She believed me. She supported me.”
- “She was always there to talk to when I needed someone; to just curse and scream and yell.”
Jaquia recalls a time she wasn’t trusted or listened to as a youth in foster care.
“I would say it was mostly from my placement staff that I had to kind of fight against ‘one bad apple spoils, the bunch’ kind of thing. I remember wanting to work. That was one of the things that I wanted to do prior to [turning] 18, because I was super nervous about what was going to happen [after foster care]. And I knew by the time I turned 18, that jobs are going to want some experience,” says Jaquia.
Matt asks Jaquia, “When you look back on [your experience in foster care] do you wonder why you had to fight so hard?”
“I mean, even aging-out and having services and, you know, quote unquote supports, even if I had signed myself back into care and stayed until 21, it’s still not stability. And that’s what you need in order to just start to build your life as you are in those crucial years of transitioning into adulthood. And no one saw that as important, it was just, you know, what works best for now,” says Jaquia.
Jaquia shares where she drew strength to continue making steps towards independence and success after aging out of foster care.
Life after foster care: At 17-years-old, Jaquia heads to college, but runs into unforeseen roadblocks with housing that neither she nor her previous supporters prepared for.
“I thought school was my stability, but that was the rude awakening when I figured out we had to move off campus every winter, spring, and summer,” says Jaquia. “I didn’t think about that at all. Everybody was just focused on getting me to college.”
Now in her early twenties, Jaquia is gets a bit more settled into life as a full-time college student and decides to pick up an opportunity to become an advocate for other youth in foster care.
“I always say my experience [in foster care] was completely golden to be able to have one social worker, one guardian ad litem, one LINKS coordinator. And when I say one social worker, I mean, for the last couple months, I don’t really count that, but she saw me through pretty much until I had a stable plan on my 18th birthday,” says Jaquia. “And that’s very rare. That wasn’t the experience of my peers. You know, I had my social worker cell phone number. That’s how close we were.”
When did Jaquia realize she was having an unusually lucky experience as a youth in foster care?
Jaquia deep dives into her vision for foster care and shares what she wants for youth in care to experience, and answers insight about what she aims to help create.
- A team of people who support and believe in them.
- Equality across the board
- Freedom to be and decide and become whoever it is that they do
Matt shares his final thoughts.
- Judicial Bypass Procedures: Undue Burdens for Young People Seeking Safe Abortion Care | Advocates for Youth
- What happens to kids who age out of foster care | House of Providence
- North Carolina LINKS Program | NC DHHS
- North Carolina Guardian ad Litem equips community volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court | Volunteer for GAL
- Written by Jaquia Wilson: Redefining "Child Welfare Expert" | Children’s Bureau Express
- How the Child Welfare System Made Me Prioritize Education Over Myself | The Imprint
- Support Services for Youth in Transition: Housing | Child Welfare Information Gateway
[00:00:00] Matt Anderson: This is Matt Anderson. And thanks for joining us for another episode of seen and heard by Institute for Family on this podcast, we engage in stories and conversations that recognize child welfare transformation starts with seeing families for who they truly are. This is a particularly special episode for me. I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of my good friends, Jaquia Wilson, who I’ve known for about eight years now. And we’ve spent the last couple years actually working together. Jaquia is a New York City native. She spent her teenage years in foster care here in North Carolina. And now as a young adult, she’s really emerged as a leading voice for child welfare transformation. We’re going to talk about her work as an advocate, but we actually start with the important role that her mom plays in her life. And before we dive in, I do want to say that there are some parts of her story that get very emotional. So please listen with that in mind.
[00:01:12] Jaquia Wilson: I grew up in Soundview projects in the Bronx, New York, which was not an easy area to grow up in. I was the last of nine children. I got into a lot of fights growing up. I just kind of thought I was lucky. I had a lot of siblings. If I got into a fight in the neighborhood, my siblings would always come to my rescue. Not that I needed it because I grew up pretty hot head tomboy, so very bossy child. It was always my mom’s lesson to us. That just because we were from the hood didn’t mean we had to be of the hood. She was big on, you know, making sure that our schoolwork was done. Very big on making sure that we hang out too much around the wrong crowd of other youth.
[00:01:59] Matt Anderson: You know, even though things weren’t perfect as a kid, it seems like your mom had a big influence on you. And I wonder if you would agree with that. And if you could say more about maybe the impact that your mom had on you when you were growing up.
[00:02:12] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah. My mother was a different kind of mom. She was never anyone’s friend first. She was always the parent first. We had to say yes ma’am no, ma’am. My mom taught me a lot about the Bible at a very young age, who used to do Bible study. And we would read the book of Proverbs and it’s 31 chapters in that book. And each day at night, we would go through a chapter and she would make me define what those Proverbs meant. And she would make me apply them to life situation.
Seventh grade happened, and that’s when I got expelled. Uh, my mom was pretty upset with me, but she still loved me. So I got sent down towards the end of the school year to North Carolina, to stay with my brother. I only stayed for that summer on punishment. I had to rake the yard and do yard work. I was completely unaware of what that was like, anything down south, anything outside of me, I really didn’t have a relationship with my mom until about 13 that’s when we finally sat down and talked about what happened when I was younger. And then we were able to really start to get to know one another shortly after that she had a stroke. It was in the middle of her arguing with my step-dad over me, you know, punishment and such. And I remember her standing in the doorway of my room and her face dropping. She was trying to speak and she couldn’t, and my stepdad jumped out of his chair and in his room and rushed to her and was like, Lucy, see, what’s what’s going on. She couldn’t speak. And we rushed her to the hospital and it turns out she had. After that she wasn’t the same, her health kind of deteriorated after that. It’s only had two short years really knowing my mom as my mom.
[00:04:08] Matt Anderson: And so you were living with her at that point when she had the stroke and then you were living with her after that as well.
[00:04:15] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah. And after that, I really calmed down. Cause that was, you know, scared. It’s very traumatizing to watch that. I think I kind of felt responsible because all my behaviors at that point were stressors and I was the last one in the house at that time. So I felt responsible for that for awhile. And then I think she forgave me and we started to kind of build our relationship. I started school in 10th grade in Queens, in September, she went to the hospital around October and they found out that her heart was weak. And so she sent me down to North Carolina to stay with my brother for a couple weeks. While she was in the hospital, they gave her some medications and such and sent her home and said, you know, go home, take it easy.
And if you know my mom, you know, she was never going to take it easy. That’s not in her nature. So on the 23rd of November of 2011, we were coming back from North Carolina because at this point my mom wanted us all to be in her home for Thanksgiving. It actually happened to be my brother’s birthday that year.
[00:05:29] His birthday is. That was on November 24th. It changes, you know, Thanksgiving every year. So that particular year it happened to fall on his birthday. So we were all going to celebrate his birthday and Thanksgiving and spend time with my mom. As she got out the hospital, we drove down on the 23rd when we left that afternoon and we had touched New York, uh, the Manhattan bridge around 12:00 AM after all that traffic in New York.
[00:05:55] I just remember it was a really long car ride everywhere. In the car was, you know, just eager to get out of the car. And my mom was like, hurry up, “Quay”, hearing up “Quay”. You know, I can’t wait to see you and spend a while you made it home at like 3:00 AM. Sorry, guys. This is kind of hard.
We made it home at three. I remember walking in and putting my bags down in my room. She was sitting on the edge of the bed. She had just got done, stirring the greens on the stove and mixing to mac and cheese. She just finished making her pie cross from scratch. I walked in a room. I greeted her. I gave her a hug.
[00:06:42] She went back to the kitchen and do a few things. And then she got a little short-winded. So she went to sit down probably about 15 minutes had passed and she called me in the room and asked me to go grab her a glass of ice, cold water. She sat in front of the fan cause she was a little, a little warm.
[00:06:59] The window was open. So it was a little draft coming in. And by the time I made it to the kitchen and back to the room. She grabbed my hands and took the water. She said, “Quay” I was waiting for you to get back. How was your trip? It was good. And I went to go use the bathroom. And I let go of her hand and she just kind of fell back on the bed.
[00:07:29] My sister scream high-pitched “mommy”. And I turned around and she was convulsing and I ran to the phone and called 911. Of course, we live in the projects on the third floor and the elevator was broken. So 911 took their slow, sweet time getting the gurney out and upstairs. And that was downstairs in the hallway.
[00:07:52] I think I was in the kitchen, on the floor, underneath the sink next to the washing machine. And everyone was arguing. Everyone was arguing. And when the paramedics finally got there, everyone was arguing so loud over whose fault it was. They couldn’t hear her heartbeat. I remember them wrapping her in her blankets and, and moving her from the bedroom to the hallway floor.
[00:08:24] I remember having to step over her body to get to the front door and they loaded her on to the gurney. So that was the last time I saw her alive. By the time she made it to the hospital, they pronounced her dead 3:30am
So with me getting home in an hour, she was gone. I think she waited for me.
[00:08:53] Matt Anderson: I think she did too.
[00:08:57] Jaquia Wilson: Sorry. That was hard. And, um, Yeah, from then on my family, you know, had to figure out what to do with a 15-year-old, two days after my mom died, I found out I was pregnant. So that was a plot twist. I didn’t know what to do. I was 15 and my mom had just passed and my family, you know, had to figure out what to do with a 15-year-old.
[00:09:33] My sister and my brother were the most stable. Her being in Pittsburgh him being in North Carolina. And since I had already lived with him prior, and my sister had two kids that at that point I was expecting, the most sense was made for me to go live with him.
[00:09:49] Matt Anderson: I, um, so maybe we just take a, take a pause there and, you know, I know a little bit about that whole experience, Jo, but we’ve never really gone into that level of detail about it.
[00:10:02] So I just appreciate you opening up and sharing all of that. I know it’s painful to go back to those memories. It’s emotional. I mean, I’m crying on the other side of this mic right now. So I just appreciate you sharing your story with us like that. And it just, it continues to reinforce for me what an incredible person you are and, you know, everything that you’ve persevered through.
[00:10:27] It’s still, you know, just an amazing person. It’s really impressive. And I didn’t know, and you don’t have to share any more if you don’t want to, but I, I didn’t know that you were pregnant at that time and to have all of that happening at the same time at such a young age, with big question marks about what happens next. I can just only imagine what you were going through and how you were feeling at that time.
[00:10:55] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah, I was, I was really confused at the time. Uh, had a boyfriend, so he was dead set on being in the child’s life. My family is super religious, so abortion wasn’t an option. And my family just pretty much told me I had to have it by due date was actually pretty close to my mom’s birthday.
[00:11:15] So yeah, my family was just super convinced that that’s what was happening. Reincarnation. I don’t know. My mom was buried on December 2nd. I was in North Carolina on December 3rd. So I remember in January. I had to file a petition with the courts. This is when I really gained my independence. My brother told me he wasn’t going to support me if I decided to terminate, but I didn’t want to bring a child into this world and not have anything to give them.
[00:11:46] So. My boyfriend at the time. And I had a very long conversation and we decided it was best to terminate. My family didn’t support that. So they were trying to force me at this point because I was close to three months to pretty much like, wait it out so that I had to have the baby and that was not going to happen.
[00:12:06] Cause I knew if I had that baby, they were going to hold me for dear life. Yeah. I never get ahead is what I felt like. Well, he ended up getting the money for it and we decided that I would go to the courts and do what I had to do. I contacted planned parenthood. They told me I had to go through the process of getting a judicial bypass, which meant that I had to prove that the guardian that I had at the time was unfit to make decisions for me.
[00:12:37] So I met with the judge and they signed off on the paperwork. I went through the process and my family hated me. No one wanted anything to do with me after that.
[00:12:47] Matt Anderson: So was that the moment then, was that the moment that you went from living with your brother to actually being in foster care?
[00:12:57] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah. It was May 7th.
[00:12:58] Matt Anderson: Where did you go on that day?
[00:12:59] Jaquia Wilson: Well, first I went to DSS, they took my statement. They asked me if I had anybody else I could go to. And the only other option was my sister in Pittsburgh, who at this time was pretty upset with me for making decisions that I made. So I went to school that day and I got picked up by my social work. I went into Falcon, the group home, and I got to finish out my school year at the school that I was attending, which was big because I had a best friend there and she pretty much went through a lot of those six months that I stayed with my brother with me. I mean, the day that I went into foster care, she was at the house. And so I, I got to finish up the school year with her, but that was the last real connection that I had.
[00:13:43] Matt Anderson: So from November through May, all of that just happened right. I mean there you are now in a, in a group home after all of this.
[00:13:53] And I just wonder what, what that feeling was like to kind of wake up, you know, so to speak that first morning at a group. realized that your world had changed.
[00:14:02] Jaquia Wilson: It was really intense. I remember the night that I got there after my social worker took me to go get a couple of my things from my brother’s house.
[00:14:10] I grabbed the Teddy bear that my ex-boyfriend had gave me the night that my mom passed. When I got back to New York, I went to get that. And a few of my mom’s things. The whole time I stayed with my brother. I’ve always kept hold of all my documents, my social, my birth certificate, my mom’s death certificate for legal reasons. And I was pretty used to kind of doing things on my own. So my first day in foster care, I was like, whoa, what do I need to do in order to be successful here?
[00:14:39] Matt Anderson: Did you feel abandoned? Do you have those kinds of feelings about man like where did everybody go or, or, or not? I mean, everybody kind of went away overnight.
[00:14:49] Jaquia Wilson: Definitely. So, I mean, I was the rebellious fast kid who got pregnant. And so a lot of people were turned against me, you know, they didn’t pick up the phone and call or try to find out where I was. And honestly, at that point, I didn’t want anything to do with them, myself. So for a while, I did resent them for not coming to find me or thinking about me.I mean, how could, y’all not think about me?
[00:15:14] Matt Anderson: You know, you’re in foster care now. Right. And all of a sudden there’s a social worker involved. There is a court case, right? So a judge is responsible for where you’re going to live and the circumstances around your life. You know, a judge makes many of those decisions.
[00:15:29] There might be a, a guardian ad litem, you know, who’s court-appointed to you. There might be a therapist, you know, there’s staff at the group home. So now all of a sudden, again, overnight, all of this as part of your world, all these different people and all the different aspects of the foster care system.
[00:15:46] And so I assume that was an eye-opener for you, or did you know anything going in about what this experience was going to be like? Or was it all kind of coming at you for the first time? Can you talk about that experience?
[00:16:04] Jaquia Wilson: Yes going into it i knew what stories I heard about foster here in New York. So I thought I was going into a juvenile justice facility. I didn’t expect it to be near as nice as when I got there. Like just the standard cleaning level. I mean, the lemon smell. When I walked into the group home,
[00:16:21] Matt Anderson: It smelled like lemons when you walked in?
[00:16:22] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah like you know, the pledge lemon stuff that you spray on wood, it smelled like somebody had just finished cleaning in that.
[00:16:29] Yeah. I remember doing an inventory of everything that I had that first night in the group home, I had a roommate and I counted all my perfumes, all my pants like, oh my socks. Because I knew that she was going to try to steal something from me and I was going to have to fight.
Matt Anderson: But how did you know that?
Jaquia Wilson: Because I heard stories from my mom growing up kind of scary stories against the system, right? You want to go to school and act crazy and, you know, have those people is what she called them, dig into our lives. And they’re going to take you and put you in a worse place than home. That’s what I thought I was going into in foster care. But these were stories of New York’s foster care system. When I got there, it was a little better, a little better than I expected.
I walked into the little foyer area and I remember a set of double doors that looked on to the hallway. It was cameras all in the office. When I was coming in to do my intake, they took my cell phone. They broke my camera cause we weren’t allowed to have phones with cameras attached. They took a lot of my things really based off of safety, precautions, like razors and stuff.
[00:17:42] And so when I stepped onto the hall, I could look either way left or right in front of me was a big living room area. And this is probably what the biggest house that I had been in at this point in my life. It, to me felt like a mini-mansion. I was placed in the bedroom with a young lady and. So in that quad, it was just us two.
[00:18:03] We had a really big kitchen and we even had a sunroom. And at this point I didn’t know what a sunroom was until I got there. So a lot of stuff. She gave me all the rules, the bedtimes, the wake-up times the chores. And from that point they really just started to treat me like a grenade, almost like a grenade with a pulled pin.
[00:18:27] We had a discipline committee that met every Friday to review write-ups. And if you continue to get write-ups, you had levels of loss of privilege. You couldn’t watch TV. You couldn’t go outside to play when everybody else did. You were on cottage restriction, which meant that even during social hours, where we ate at the cafeteria, we would have to bring home your food and you would eat alone in the kitchen.
[00:18:53] Matt Anderson: I mean, it just sounds like it’s more juvenile detention than it is family. And I wonder if it felt like that? And if you look back on that, You know, if that was what you needed or wanted?
[00:19:06] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah. I needed the stability. I was counted out on the family at that point. I was just like, I’ll make my own family when I get older, I was like, forget all that emotional stuff.
[00:19:16] I just am happy that I have a bed to lay in and I’m not sleeping on the floor every day. And I just thought to count my blessings, at least here, you know, they gave me three meals a day and so. I felt safer, even though the rules were what they were. My mom taught me. You know, when you go to someone’s house, even if they give you a corner, you keep that corner clean, you know, and you help out and you carry your weight.
[00:19:40] And so I saw it as me being on my best behavior was the way that I could stay stable because otherwise, they were able to kick you out. And the girls in the stories that I heard from people coming from foster homes, were potentially worse than, you know, what I was dealing with, at least here, you know, they’re not beating me. So I just needed some time to stay still and really figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, where my options and opportunities, or like who I wanted to become. But at that time I think I was really just focused on, you know, what do I need to do between now and 18 to be as successful and stable as possible independently, or is my goal?
[00:20:26] Matt Anderson: Who was in your support system, who are those people that were in your life from 15 to 18?
[00:20:32] Jaquia Wilson: So there’s like a revolving door. I feel like who I remember consistently being there was my older sister on my mom’s side. She’s the one family member who kept in contact with me for my duration of being in foster care.
[00:20:48] I had a social worker who I really, really loved and adored, and I could see a lot of myself in her. And I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. And I remember having a LINKS Coordinator who was equally as amazing as my social worker and who believed in the youth that she met and really helped us envision and see the bigger pictures. And I had a guardian ad litem who made me feel like he was my own personal lawyer. And when it came to advocating on my behalf in court and when it came to speaking up for my rights.
[00:21:22] Matt Anderson: Let’s talk about the social worker a little bit. So you said that you saw a lot of yourself in her and that she was a really important person in your life.
[00:21:28] So talk about that relationship and why it was so important to you. And what about her you really connected with?
[00:21:36] Jaquia Wilson: So initially it was personal things. I remember she was the first person to come pick me up from school. You know, she came to my school, um, with their badge and everything, and she picked me up and she was. Petite like me, like skinny. It’s going to sound weird right. But no shorter. She always wore heels though. A black woman. I mean, she rocked every outfit. Like she was on her own way. I mean, that was, that was definitely like initially what really drew me to her. I kind of saw myself in her because, you know, I had wanted to be someone like that in the feature and business, or, you know, be able to dress up every day.
And then I remember her being an educated and, and being independent and focused on herself. Yeah. It just really connected with her on that level. And I really did struggle growing up, just being teased on like, Small. I was, he used to be like, girl, you need to eat like that kind of thing. And, and mentally, you know, people joking and kidding.
And, but eventually it does take a toll on you, especially as a teenager, kind of forming your own thoughts and opinions about yourself and your self-esteem. So she gave me confidence, you know, to be able to really be small and tiny, but still, you know, kind of crack the concrete when you walk. So
[00:22:49] Matt Anderson: yeah, you paint a picture of who this woman is, and obviously she made a big impression on you, but I’m also curious, like, Like, were there things that she did just in the relationship that helped you connect with her and trust her and build that relationship with her?
[00:23:04] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah, number one, she always spoke to me like I was in charge and I was human. She never made me feel like I was just some last little kid who didn’t know what they wanted for themselves. And she helped me always by informing me and being honest with me, which really helped me gain the trust for her, that we needed in order for our relationship to work.
[00:23:25] When I told her what I wanted, she listened to me. She believed me. She supported me despite how hard it may have been. I said she was always very honest with me. So even if I told her, you know, I wanted to be an astronaut, she tells me the 18 million steps it took to get there, but she never discouraged me along the way.
[00:23:43] And she was always there to talk to when I needed someone to just curse and screaming, know she likes, she listened, I didn’t get in trouble for it. It was just, you know, her letting me be myself.
[00:23:55] Matt Anderson: It sounds like she’d saw you for for who you are. And that’s powerful, but I wonder, was that all the experience during your time in foster care, or were there times when you weren’t listened to that you weren’t trusted. Yeah,
[00:24:10] Jaquia Wilson: I would say it was mostly from my placements staff that I had to kind of fight against one bad apple spoils, the bunch kind of thing. I remember wanting to work. That was one of the things that I wanted to do prior to 18, because I was super nervous about what was going to happen. And I knew by the time I turned 18, that jobs are going to want and experience.
[00:24:35] So I spoke to my social worker, my guardian ad litem and my LINKS coordinator. And yeah. Really fought back with the group home to prove that, you know, my record didn’t show me as a runaway.
[00:24:47] Matt Anderson: Yeah. I mean, in some ways, Jo, it’s just odd that you’re having to fight for those opportunities, which are, are normal for so many kids.
[00:24:55] You know, you really had to advocate for yourself for those things. I’m guessing you’re looking at your 18th birthday, knowing that on that day, you age out of foster care, everything goes away. That support system, other than your sister, that you meantioned. They are no longer paid to be in your life at 18. So when you look back on it, do you kind of wonder why you had to fight so hard?
[00:25:18] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah. I mean, even aging out and having services and, you know, quote unquote supports, even if I had signed myself back into care and stayed until 21, it’s still not stability. And that’s what you need in order to just start to build your life as you are in those crucial years of, of transitioning into adulthood.
[00:25:38] And no one saw that as important, it was just, you know, what works best for now. And I think that’s the story for a lot of youth, but it’s what works best for everyone else besides them. And I kind of, wasn’t going to take that for an answer. And honestly, I was one of the very few youth to even be thinking of this in this way. A lot of the other youth were thinking for the moment and reunification, but I knew that that wasn’t my plan.
[00:26:08] Matt Anderson: Right. Where did you draw strength from at those times?
[00:26:12] Jaquia Wilson: My social worker Raven on my last year of high school. Right before I turned 18, she made it to my graduation, but she was unable to see me off to college and everything cause she actually moved and gone to Virginia.
[00:26:26] So I actually did end up having multiple social workers towards the very end of my couple of months in care. But by that time, honestly, I mean, I had spent so much time with her doing things hand in hand. I was able to tell the new social workers how to do their job. Like, okay, you need to submit this request by this day so that we can have this situated and figured out so I can have my dorm room paid for, and I can go on my tour or, you know, whatever the case may be, but you have to stay on top of them.
[00:26:56] That wasn’t from my experience. That’s what I saw from every other youth experience. So when I started getting shuffled around and I pretty much knew, okay, these people are not going to know what to do by the time they get my file. I doubt they even read it. Maybe my discipline report, you know, but not, not anything about my successes or my future. So it was kinda my job to educate them.
[00:27:18] Matt Anderson: Right. It sounds to me like that period of time from 15 to 18 years old, when you aged out, it’s sort of marked by, I think you being quite lucky actually, and that you had stability, one placement, you had caring, supportive people around you, your sister. Your social worker, Raven, your guardian ad litem, your links coordinator, and pretty consistent relationships with those people. I mean, you were, you were really fortunate and then you age out, right. Then you turn 18 and you’re gone right. Gone from the group home, gone from foster care, you know, all of those formal relationships as professionals essentially go away. And then what, where do you go from there?
[00:28:02] Jaquia Wilson: So at that point I felt like I went across the globe and back. So I was 17 at the campus of North Carolina, central university in the dorm. Like first overnight, anything since ever going into foster care. I was living on campus for the first semester and I thought things were going to be smooth sailing, but I got a shocker of my life when they kicked us off-campus in December.
[00:28:29] And by this time I hadn’t made any arrangements or plans to go anywhere. And at that point I felt completely abandoned and homeless. I was like, where am I going to go? You know, come spring break. And I hadn’t even thought about summer. Like I not thought this far and to live in at a university. And so it was really a eye-opener to me at that moment, because it was my first time not being stable.
[00:28:54] Like I thought school was my stability, but that was the rude awakening. When I figured out we had to move off campus every winter, spring, and summer, I didn’t think about that at all. Everybody was just focused on getting me to college or like, while she still has to make it until she graduates.
[00:29:16] Matt Anderson: You leave the group home a couple of days before your 18th birthday, you leave foster care. You go to NC central, but you’re essentially now homeless. I mean, you’re couch surfing. So this is like, what? 19 years old now. Yeah. Like so many other kids who age out of foster care that first year it was pretty rough.
[00:29:37] Jaquia Wilson: Yeah. So I was working two jobs and in school and just had myself on like a rigid budget. Cause I only got paid once a month from one time. And I just tried my best to figure out, you know, the first year of life, like I had to pay taxes and that’s to pay a registration on a car each year. Like, I didn’t know, you have registration fees, you know, after the first year they send me a bill and like, yeah, this is great. So you mean, so you have to pay more money. Okay. And so I had like a really strict, strict budget at the time.
[00:30:14] Matt Anderson: I mean, this is an interesting moment in time, right? I mean, you’re turning 20 years old. You’re getting a little bit more settled into a full-time job college, but you pick up this opportunity to become an advocate for other youth in foster care. You know, why did you decide. This is how you wanted to spend your time, because I’m sure you didn’t have a lot of extra time trying to pay the bills with full-time job and go to school and all those sorts of things. So why take up this role as advocate?
[00:30:40] Jaquia Wilson: Oh man. So I remember, like I said, a lot of the experiences that I didn’t firsthand experience, but that my peers did. And I remember feeling kind of how you say quote-unquote like really lucky right now. I always say my experience was completely golden to be able to have one social worker, one guardian ad litem, one Lynx coordinator. And when I say one social worker, I mean, for the last couple months, I don’t really count that, but she saw me through pretty much until I had a stable plan on my 18th birthday.
And that’s very rare. That wasn’t the experience of my peers. You know, I had my social worker cell phone number. That’s how close we were. I could literally send her a text or call her. And she knew when I was calling, it was like, okay, listen, I tried the chain of command and it’s not working. So some has to happen, but that’s not the case for most youth, you know, they’re misunderstood and judged.
And a lot of people met me and they thought, okay, she’s stable. Right? She’s you know, one of the few who has a success story, look, she’s in school, look, she’s working. Look, she doesn’t have a criminal. It was like all these things, but it was like, no, that’s really not the case. I’m just a little lucky, you know?
And so I didn’t like that either. I got seen as the good kid who made it out without, you know, any scratches kind of thing. And I wanted to show that that’s not the case. Like we are all the same.
[00:32:01] Matt Anderson: wow. So people put you on a pedestal as, you know, look at look at Jaquia what she was able to accomplish. Almost like despite all odds, right. She made it through others can do it too.
And what you were saying was no, that’s not fair. That’s not right. I got lucky. So it’s almost like you wanted to challenge that idea and let them know that you had this unique, lucky kind of experience. Am I kind of getting that right?
[00:32:28] Jaquia Wilson: You’re getting that perfect a hundred percent.
[00:32:31] Matt Anderson: And when did you realize that? Like, did you know that you were kind of having this unusually lucky experience?
[00:32:38] Jaquia Wilson: No. Yeah. I knew that I knew the entire time. That I didn’t have the same challenges as everyone else. And I knew my situation was different because like I said, my plan was never for reunification, right. There was no family that I thought, you know, let me go back to, but every other youth that came in and out of those doors were fighting to get back to their siblings were fighting to get back to their mom, even that situation, you know, I always say I feel more fortunate to just have a parent who passed away and can’t be here.
Then, you know, to feel like my parent is in this world and I’m separated from them. Like, I know that reality that my mom’s not coming back. I won’t walk by one day and see her on the street. But to know that in foster care, you could potentially see that, you know, you could potentially bump into your mom or your dad at court or whatever the case may be and not be connected or engaged with them as if they’re just another person on the street is not fair. And so. I didn’t like what I was hearing. Um, so it was a little bit unfair for me to have that experience. And then for everyone else not to, but our realities were also different. They were fighting to get back to a family.
[00:33:48] Matt Anderson: So now you actually work for SAYSO led by. Youth who are in foster care or were in foster care and they work tirelessly to advocate for improvements to the foster care system. That’s your job. And you’ve been doing that for a little while. And so you’re four years into this and you know, when you kind of step back and look at kids in foster care now, like what’s your greatest hope? What do you want kids to experience? What do you hope that they’ll get as they’re in the system?
[00:34:18] Jaquia Wilson: I hope that they get a team of people who support and believe in them. I hope that they get equality across the board, and I hope that they get the freedom to be and decide and become whoever it is that they do. But we know that. Foster care. Doesn’t give you those freedoms or those opportunities. It doesn’t support individual growth and development. In most cases.
[00:34:46] Matt Anderson: Do you think you’ll always be an advocate for that?
[00:34:49] Jaquia Wilson: I don’t think I have a choice.
[00:34:55] Matt Anderson: I’d like to thank Jaquia for joining me and for sharing her story. And before we end, I’d like to share just a couple of thoughts with you and our episode with Dr. Perry, a few weeks back, we touched briefly on this idea of post-traumatic wisdom, the strength that we gain when we move through the pain of our past and use it for the purpose of reaching back and lifting up others.
I think Jaquia personifies this in a powerful way, but first I want to say that I hate that has had to endure such pain and loss in her life. Nobody should have to be called to be so resilient, but she continues to move through it in ways that has been a gift to her family, to young people, who’ve experienced foster care and to professionals like me, I’m grateful for Jaquia’s leadership and for the generosity of her spirit.
Our conversation also made me think about the importance of story for the storyteller. We often think about story in terms of the audience. We use stories to educate, inspire, entertain, or create an emotional experience for the audience. But story is also for the storyteller. We carry the weight of our stories with us everywhere we go.
We create space for the good stories, but what about the painful ones we’re often left to carry those alone and the weight can be crushing. When I worked as a therapist years ago, I used to think about my role or at least part of my role as a weight bear. I’d listened to someone’s story and hold weight with them.
[00:36:29] So they didn’t have to carry it alone. It’s a vulnerable place, but it’s often where we can begin to release our attachment to the. Embrace the wisdom we’ve gained and use it to create the future that we want. So I want to thank Jaquia again for being vulnerable for entrusting me and you, our audience with her story, it’s truly an honor to carry it with her.
Thank you for listening to another episode of seen and heard by Institute for family.
[00:37:01] Isaiah: Hey guys is Isaiah Strozier again. And as you know, I am a part of the creative team here at Seen and Heard by Institute for Family. As always thank you guys so much for listening to today’s episode. If you didn’t know now, you know, you can go to SeenandHeardPodcast.com for videos, articles, and additional clips about our guests and the topics that we discussed. Check it out. There’s some really awesome stuff there. Be sure to rate us and leave a review because we want to know how these stories are influencing your work. A big thanks goes out to our incredible team, executive producer, Michael Osborne, editorial assistants from Paige Williams, mixing mastering and sound designed by Morgan Honaker. And our composer is Christian Haigis. As always, thank you guys so much for listening and I hope to see and hear from you next week.
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