Georgina Rodriguez spent most of her life growing up in foster care. She entered the system at age six and aged out at 18. In the course of 12 years, she moved eight different times. She had only lived with her older brother for six months in all her years in foster care.
She is now a 23-year-old college student majoring in social work. Her ultimate goal is to be the secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families or the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.
She currently serves in a statewide foster youth advocacy organization, “Florida Youth SHINE,” and has interned with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. She hopes to change the system that raised her.
Here, Rodriquez shares her experiences on how she found over 40 relatives on her own.
Georgette Todd: Hi Georgina, what motivated you to start looking for your biological family?
Georgina Rodriguez: When I was , I got into contact with a 33-year-old brother who was a Navy veteran with a wife and two young kids in San Diego. I didn’t get to live with him, but three days after aging out-of-care, I flew out to meet him and his family. We shared the same short stubby hands and his voice sounded just like my other brother’s voice. Because of that one trip, that one experience, I have spent the last five years of my life searching and connecting with my family.
Todd: How did you go about finding your relatives?
Rodriguez: I have found or connected with family by going on Facebook, searching the internet religiously, making calls, traveling around the U.S. to knock on doors, and even leaving letters on them.
It has not been easy. The searching part is hard, but the range of emotion is even harder. So far, I’ve found or connected with 40 to 45 maternal relatives all over the U.S. and Dominican Republic. I’m talking cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brother, sister in laws, niece, nephews, etc.
I had help along the way. I couldn’t have found my family without independent living social workers, mentors, friends, foster families, my foster care agency, and even people that I have never met before. It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but worth it in the end.
Todd: What has been the reaction from your relatives? Have any of them said they would have taken you in had they known you were in foster care?
Rodriguez: They ask me questions about what happened and what it was like growing up in care. (I tell them the good stuff of course.) They showed me pictures of the family and of my mom when she was younger, too. They even gave me an album of photos that had baby photos and toddler photos of me!
My relatives were sorry that they couldn’t get us, but it was because they didn’t know where we were. One time a relative found out about us being in the system, but no one knew how to find us.
None of them outright said they would’ve taken us in when we were placed in foster care. A lot of them though, I think, realized my mother’s instability early on and wanted to help care for us when my mother did have us in her custody.
Todd: Did you ever wonder where your family was? Why wasn’t anyone stepping up?
Rodriguez: At the time of my initial removal, my eight-year-old brother and my mother were the only family I knew I had. After removal, I became hesitant in being reunited with my mother.
So at that point, I didn’t really think about being with family members because I didn’t know I had any. I wanted to be adopted by a family and never go back home to mother, but parental rights weren’t terminated until close to my 13th birthday.
But I do remember back in elementary and middle school when I would wonder if the person sitting next to me with the same last name as Rodriguez was in anyway related to me. In high school, I even wondered if the famous Yankees baseball player, Alex Rodriguez, was related to me.
Todd: What efforts, to your knowledge, did your social worker make in placing you with relatives?
Rodriguez: In the very early stages of the case, according to my foster care records, diligent searches were done on our fathers with no success. Also, there were attempts to reach out to our older maternal brother in California. Sending us to our grandparents was an option that they had talked about at one point, but then my grandparents went back to the Dominican Republic (DR) and never returned.
Todd: What advice do you have for foster kids? And for those who work in child welfare?
Rodriguez: What I’d like to tell foster kids is that foster care is temporary even when it seems like an eternity filled with misery. So in the meantime make good friends, build your own family, your own support system. Find refuge in those that are actually willing to be there for you or listen to you whether it’s foster parents, group home staff, social workers, neighbors, [or] coaches.
My advice to professionals is that they should help kids get and stay connected with positive family members or significant people in their life such as neighbors. This connection will help with emotional stability and feeling cared about. Finding my family has helped with healing because I can now better understand why my mother was the way she was.
Don’t look for family just for placement purposes. Whenever I meet with family, I realized that I didn’t just find family, I found myself.
Note: This article was corrected on Aug. 6