I’ve been in and out of foster care my whole life – from toddler to young adult. There have been times where I used my voice and other times where I did not, but should have.
I personally never realized how important it was to use your voice until I got older. As a child, I did not realize the power of using my voice to advocate for myself.
When I was 10 years old, I went back into care for the second time. With going back into care came many meetings with judges and social workers. One day, I had an appointment with a judge.
My bio mother and some other adults were there (I assume they were social workers). The judge asked me to come up to the podium to talk with him. Keep in mind I am a young girl. At age 10, I had no idea what was going on around me. I walked up to the podium and the judge asked me a simple question: “Do you want to go back home?”
I could have easily said yes or no, but instead I looked back at my bio-mother. Then I told the judge, “I love my mom, but I know she has a lot of problems.” I believe the judge understood what I could not say, that for my safety, it was better if I stayed in care.
To think a 10-year-old’s opinion was asked and mattered. I could have easily said that I want to go home or something similar. Without me saying the actual words, my message came through, my voice was strong. From then on, my life was changed. I never lived with my mother again.
This was a choice in regards to my safety, a choice that I made when I was 10 years old. Just by using my voice I changed my life. If I had stayed, I would have endured many more unsafe situations. It’s crazy to think that the people we encounter play a huge role in making sure our voices are heard.
ShawnaRae is 24 years old and lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She works full-time and is currently the president of Wisconsin’s State-wide Youth Advisory Council. Every year, ShawnaRae helps to host Hands Around the Capitol to advocate and spread awareness about the Foster Care System. She attends conferences around the United States to share her story on panels and join others to help make change. ShawnaRae works hard every day to create better lives for those who are currently experiencing in and out of home care.