SAN ANTONIO – False stereotypes about foster kids being troubled or difficult are keeping children from the futures they deserve.
As KSAT has reported, research shows it’s even harder for foster children of color.
“I was always on the streets at three years old. I was removed at three and I was in foster care until I was nine,” said 31-year-old Sarai Hernandez, who grew up in the child welfare system.
Hernandez described feeling unloved in both her congregate setting foster home and her eventual adoptive home, which she left at the age of 15.
“I didn’t have somebody to be my voice. I was just alone, but that was normal for me,” she said.
Hernandez doesn’t want that to be normal for other kids, which is why she volunteers at CASA (Child Advocates of San Antonio) and joins forces with other nonprofits to share her story to make sure other foster kids know they’re not alone.
“I was a troubled kid when I was in high school. They told me I wasn’t going to be anything, and that did a lot of damage,” Hernandez said.
She now has a beautiful family, a bachelor’s degree and is pursuing two master’s degrees in counseling and social work, defying the negative stigma surrounding foster children.
Those stereotypes are even worse for foster children of color.
Local experts report that Hispanic and Black children in Bexar County spend more time in the system waiting for adoption. A coalition is currently working to identify flaws in the system that perpetuate that disparity.
“We see it all the time. It’s a sad reality. I think that we’re becoming more conscious as a nation and mindful of that so I’m more hopeful now than ever that we’re going to see less of that,” said Pastor Mel Keyes of Joshua House of Worship.
Keyes and his congregation have spent a lot of time over the past five years with children at The Bridge emergency shelter in San Antonio, showing them love and respect.
“I think there’s a lot of fear that creates the hesitation, the fear of the unknown. If we dare to love them the way they need to be loved, change can happen,” Keyes said.
To extinguish that fear, Keyes holds workshops every quarter with other churches, welfare organizations, foster kids, future foster families and advocates like Hernandez.
“I always tell the foster parents I work with, ‘Get to know the kids. Talk to them. Be their friend. Don’t rush,” Hernandez said. “That’s what the kids want, too.”
Hernandez agrees with experts who believe the matching system within CPS needs work.
She also has a message for other foster youth struggling right now.
“I want you to know, you’re going through so many placements, so many homes, so much right now. But you’re not alone. Graduate. Make a life for yourself. You can have a family. You’re not going to be alone for the rest of your life. And turn that back and help the kids that are in foster care. Because you know how it feels you can be there for someone else,” she said.
Anyone interested in learning more about volunteering, fostering, or adopting can contact Pastor Keyes by visiting the Joshua House of Worship website.