My decision to go into social work was one that I fought. I wanted to be, in the following order: an Equine Vet, lawyer, Supreme Court Justice, pastor and art therapist. I was done with foster care, in fact, and I planned to never look back. It was time for me to move forward and try new things, and helping people in the fields of justice or healing or spirituality were where I felt lead. My talents and passions were needed elsewhere. Its been a few years since the epic battle was fought and won, and I do not remember where exactly I felt the call to become a social worker in none other field than foster care, but I know that I was influenced by some of the social workers in my own experiences as a foster child, then foster teenager, then foster college student.
I entered foster care when I was eight years old, and nobody thought that a lifetime would pass before I was able to finally heal from everything that life had handed me. It wasn’t until I was 16 and in my final foster home that I was able to make sense of whom I was, a human being with values and good qualities that some foster parents must have missed. So by this point, there was no good in the system. It never did anything for me except for hurt me and tear me apart. I know that no one’s intentions specified this for my life and there were plenty of good people in my life, but somehow I slipped through the cracks. Since I was 16 and more than likely “aging-out” of the system, I was eligible for Independent Living Services (IL). I wanted nothing to do with it, and there was no way it was going to help me in life. I did not have the foundation for thinking it would.
One of my foster sisters, who had graduated from the first portion of IL, invited me to a picnic in a park. Maybe it was a summer day with nothing planned, or maybe it was the promise of free food that enticed me to come out and join my foster sisters. It was by no means committing myself to any program that the agency had to offer. However, it was not long before I was speaking with the IL coordinator, and getting excited about what they had to offer me. After a begrudging and embarrassed, “ok…” I began the life skills classes. The IL coordinators and case managers were actually interested in me as a person. One thing that stood out for me was that they were always proud of my decisions and supported me whole-heartedly. It was almost as if they understood that even though I was a product of a lot of pain and hurt, I was still someone capable of doing great things in my life. That is exactly how I felt too, and there was no mountain too high or river too deep that my cheerleaders and I would refuse to cross together. I aged out of care when I was 21, then I graduated with a B.A. in Sociology when I was 22.
Those social workers turned cheerleaders were a huge part of why I wanted to be a social worker. They saw something in me that I knew was there. Its one thing to be self-aware, but it’s a different feeling entirely to be supported and encouraged on that journey. It is certainly helpful when I fall to have them there to pick me back up. I am a social worker because I can see the good that I can do in the lives of my youth. If my social workers were able to bring out so much in me, even though they were never in care, then imagine how much more powerful it is to have a dedicated social worker who actually understands you.