Part of what amazes me about foster youth is our ability to survive and love despite the never-ending hardships that follow us. What amazes me even more is our ability to know and believe love exists, even though most foster youth — including myself — never received enough love growing up. It is this resilience that sets us apart from all other communities — far from a negligible quality, it amounts to one of our greatest strengths.
If you had asked me what love was when I was 13 years old and had just entered the system, I probably couldn’t have answered you. My ﬁve years and countless placements in the child welfare system did not help, but rather hindered my ability to deﬁne, recognize and understand love. I guess what I learned more than anything is what love wasn’t.
By the time I was 18, I had learned with absolute certainty that love wasn’t manipulative, true love couldn’t — and shouldn’t — take advantage of you, and love had nothing to do with money. These are truths I wished more foster parents were aware of and abided by, because the result would be far fewer and signiﬁcantly happier placements for foster youth everywhere.
Unfortunately, sometimes in life you are forced to know what something isn’t before you can know what it is. I am thankful I gave life a chance to prove this to me, because there were many times I wanted to call it quits because I felt certain love and happiness would never ﬁnd me.
My one year of independence as an adult in college has allowed me to ﬁgure out what love is. Love is all-prevailing, and if there is one thing I could tell my younger self it would be that love will one day come, as it is deserved and experienced by all. Some of us may have to wait longer than others, but recognizing the unbounded prevalence of love can remind even the most traumatized of foster youth that their love will one day come.
Love’s all-prevailing nature — it is precisely this lesson that I wish I had known when I was young, depressed and seemingly trapped in a failing system. It is this lesson I wish I had known when I was heartbroken after my ﬁrst failed placement kicked me out. It is something I wish doctors had told me when I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. Love will ﬁnd you, it just might take time.
My suicidal thoughts reached their peak when I was 14 years old. I lived every day thinking I would never be loved, and subsequently that life would never be worth living. In those unimaginably bleak years, large parts of me swore the only all‑prevailing forces were that of pain and disappointment.
Life was too full of manipulative people. Life was too full of abusers, people who threw you down every time you managed to stand up. Life was too full of capitalists and tycoons. It took me a long time to realize that these feelings of intense sadness I lived with while I was in placement were short-term. Yes, the world was ﬁlled with bad people, but if I waited through the pain, when I turned 18 I could ﬁnd my own niche of the world, and I could fill it with good people; people who would not hurt me, people who would not lie to me, people who truly and honestly cared about me.
I shake my head at how close I almost got to ending life and not giving love a second chance. I am 19 years old, and I wake up every day thankful that I was able to live through the hardships I experienced and come out stronger. Even though my teenage years in the system were unimaginably painful, that pain had to be lived, experienced and overcome for me to get to where I am today.
These days I wake up in my college dorm looking at the Golden Gate Bridge. At the University of California-Berkeley, I am hundreds of miles away from the place I called “home” and I am surrounded with the good people I always wanted and hoped would come into my life. Since my admittance to Cal Berkeley, I have met a select group of amazing young people, all of whom were former or current foster youth who persevered in the name of success and achievement, despite the overwhelming odds against them.
As a foster youth in college, I try to use my painful past to bring change to the world and make it better. It can be easy to “age out of the system” and feel like you are no longer a part of it, but I urge former foster youth who might be reading this to never forget your roots. By remembering our difficult pasts and drawing upon our resilience, we can advocate for current foster youth and aﬀect real change.
This is something I truly care about because my younger sister is still in the foster system and I love and want better for her. It is my love for my younger sister still in care, coupled with the knowledge that foster youth, workers and advocates have the power to amend the many flaws in “the system,” that keeps me going.
My ultimate goal is to obtain a law degree in order to advocate for causes, organizations and people who cannot represent themselves. The lack of legal representation and advocacy for human needs is a problem that requires resolution by individuals who truly care. I believe that the most efficient way to change a system is to make small but insightful alterations from the inside out.
Former and current foster youth have firsthand experience with the kind of support that is essential and how our system could be improved. It is just up to us to use our experiences, our resilience, and our love for what is just to be the change we want to see in the world.
Anna Judson is an LA-based foster youth from Van Nuys, California. Anna‘s hope is to use her many years and experiences from foster care to advocate for systematic change to address the shortcomings of the child welfare system. When she’s not in classes, working with current and former youth, or visiting with her sisters, Anna makes time to enjoy her home in the East Bay and practice wellness.
This essay was submitted as part of Fostering Media Connection’s 2018 Youth Voice Writing Contest. This year’s contest theme was “Love Is.”