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My name is Enrique; I am 23 yrs old and have begun to work as a social worker at Nuevo Amanecer Latino Children’s Services. Life for me was not always easy; I spent almost 11 years in the foster care system and went through at least 11 homes while I was in care. I went into the foster care system when I was 9 yrs old and left when I was 19. Like many, my parents where immigrants to this country forced to immigrate to the United States in search of a better life. This led us to live in the poorest and most violent places in Los Angeles, places like Compton and Watts. In these areas racial tensions were really strong which made our lives difficult, I remember numerous times being robbed in our own home as shotguns were being pointed at my father and mother.
My father was our primary caretaker because my mother suffered from seizures which did not allow her to properly take care of us. We used to live in a trailer home and my parents gave birth to 5 children - I was the second oldest. When I was about 9 yrs old a social worker went to my school and took my brother and me out of school. My dad was somewhat drunk that day, he use to drink a lot. The social worker had showed up with a cop stating that someone had made a phone call saying that we were being neglected and that my mom was being abused. My youngest brother was 3 months old at the time. My mom was crying holding him until the cop took him from her arms. We were put into a car and as I looked out the back window I watched my parents disappear into the distance. I tried to memorize where we were going hoping maybe to find my way back but it was just too far.
We were all separated, each going to a different home in different cars because there was no home at the time that would be able to take in five children. I can still remember my first foster home and them telling me that my dad would come soon to pick us up. The first week all I did was sit by the window waiting for my dad to come and pick us up. As time passed we had permission to visit our parents, my dad stopped drinking, and it seemed as if things were going good. My dad was trying to get custody of us and the judge seemed to be going in that direction and the day came when we went back with my parents.
As time passed, I began to notice that my father was losing weight and that he was getting sick, so sick that at times he would leave to the hospital and not return for a week. We would stay with my mom but she could not take care of us due to her condition. Sometimes, my mom would leave letting us know that she would be back. We knew that she left to go drink; sometimes I think that drinking was her way of dealing with things. My youngest sister would sometimes cook for us or we would ask our neighbors to feed us. We were soon returned back into foster care. Then the unexpected happened.
Although my father stopped drinking it was already too late, he had developed cirrhosis, an alcohol infection in the liver. I watched my father lose weight and get very thin. We would always wait in our foster home for our father to come pick us up. I remember the last time I saw him, he told us he loved us and gave us money. One day we waited for our father to visit us but he never showed up, he died when I was 13 yrs old. I felt like the world had fallen over me and I did not know where to turn; it was like the world had stopped turning and time had paused and I stood confused trying to believe that it was all a dream. My oldest brother tried to commit suicide because he could not take the pain. The funny thing is that it was at that moment, for some unknown reason that I became the oldest brother, although I was the second oldest.
Just when I thought things could not get any worse, my mom also began losing weight. I remember her going to court one time and I really wanted to hug her and tell her that things were going to be okay, but the lawyers did not let me get near her. There was no chance that we would be able to return home with my mother. My mother became really sick and died when I was 14 yrs old. We were left without parents, only to grow up in the foster care system because no family member was able to take in five children.
I stayed in the system and with time I realized that crying and acting out was not going to do me any good. When I was younger my dad used to always tell me that the reason he came to the United States was so that his children would have a better life and all he ever asked from us was to make something of ourselves. So I was determined to be something in life, for my dad, for my brothers who were still in foster care, and for the children in care who experience what I had experienced.
I graduated from Whittier High School and went to Cal Poly Pomona and graduated with a BA in Sociology and began working at Nuevo Amanecer Latino Foster Family Agency, the same agency where I used to be a foster kid for almost seven years. Recently, I completed my masters in Psychology and I am currently a Social Worker. I chose to be a Social Worker to see if perhaps, I can serve as a positive role model to the children in care, as well as for my own brothers.
When I was in foster care I would always say that one of my goals was to someday take my brothers out of the foster care system and have them live with me. After being in the system for so long, I’ve learned how to work with the system and I am happy to say that I’ve recently obtained custody of my brothers. We all live together and are very happy. They are no longer foster kids in a foster home but rather brothers living with their older brother.
I have realized that there are many children in care that have gone through my same experiences, sometimes even worse. This is why I share my story, so that it may serve as source of inspiration to the children who are currently in care so that they may realize that they too can overcome the hardships of life. However, I cannot take all of the credit because I am grateful to those people in my life that when things were hard were there to keep me going. I hope I can motivate prospective foster/adoptive families to consider becoming a positive resource for the children that are unable to return to their birth families. Every child needs an adult in their lives that could love and care for them, and who could also provide a safe environment.
For those willing to adopt or foster I can tell you this, there are many children out there looking for someone to believe in them. For those who are fostering or adopting, my advice is to never take anything personal, never take away the love you have given to a child, love those that you will adopt or foster as if they were your own. Sometimes, when we are separated from our families we are merely looking for someone to hear us, understand us, love us, comfort us, and simply fill the gap that has been emptied. As a foster or adoptive parent you can play an important role in a child’s life and the success of that child is a priceless feeling. Trust me when I say, the child you care for will always remember you as the one person that stood by their side, when no one else believed in them.