My personal experience with the child welfare system
Written by Qiana Patterson
Left in hotel rooms hungry and alone: My personal experience with the Child Welfare System
I’ve never publicly told this story. In fact, the story has been buried, purposefully, for a very long time. I am sharing my story now because sometimes purpose and fate don’t allow you any other choice but to tell your truth. And my truth is that I am like many of the more than 400,000 children who have found themselves in the child welfare system.
When I was 12 months, my brother and I were found in a motel room, after what seemed to motel workers like way too many days for small children to be alone. Aside from being very hungry, we were physically okay, and luckily, we were too young to fully understand what was happening around us.
We were fed and eventually passed between social workers in neighboring county child welfare agencies before we made the ride to our maternal grandmother’s home. As the matriarch of the family, she and her home had always been our refuge, our stability in a chaotic world.
My brother and I were never returned to our mother. We lived with our grandmother for several years until we were both permanently placed, though ultimately separate from one another. Unfortunately, I came in contact with the child welfare system two more times before I graduated high school. The last time was during my senior year of high school. I ended up back with my grandmother, in the very house that I had been delivered to as a baby.
That time was different, I was an honor student, a member of the student council, a cheerleader, and a small forward on the girl’s varsity basketball team. Although returning to my grandmother’s home felt safe, I faced enormous challenges that no 17-year-old should have to solve. There was a high school two blocks from my grandmother’s house, but it didn’t make any sense for me to transfer to another school at that point in my education. I was very close to graduating. I spent four years developing friendships, connecting with teachers, immersing myself in all the things that teenagers should do. I wanted to maintain the close bonds I had formed with my peers, teachers, and teammates and wanted to continue prepping for the college of my dreams. So, on my own, I chose to stay at the school I loved, despite how much further away I was. In a time before cell phones and on-demand rideshare options, I took three buses — and made the necessary transfers — to get to school on time every day.
My childhood taught me a lot about resilience, and although I wished that it had been under different circumstances, I’m proud of my journey. In the years since graduating high school, I’ve lived a pretty remarkable life, especially given the statistics about children who come in contact with child welfare. Despite the years that have passed, I’ve never been able to shake how formative those experiences were for me. Subconsciously, it’s perhaps the reason that drew me to my first career as an educator, where I met many kids that were just like me. Though I didn’t make teaching a lifelong career, working to make the lives of children better has a been a consistent thread in my professional and personal life.
In February of this year, I joined HopSkipDrive, the leading rideshare service provider for kids. I was drawn to the company’s big mission to ensure that all kids have access to opportunity through mobility. With HopSkipDrive, I am able to shape and lead the company’s efforts to increase foster youth stability by providing reliable transportation. On the surface, it seems simple, but for me, it meant that I’d be able to help keep foster kids in their schools they love, on their cheer teams, to be able to attend SAT prep classes and help bring separated siblings together for regular visits.
Admittedly, this is not work done in isolation; there’s a huge team supporting our work here at HopSkipDrive, both internally and externally. We partner with the experts: the child welfare agencies, the countless social workers, non-profits, researchers, volunteers, and corporate sponsors to make our work possible. This is why I am excited to share the CASA of Los Angeles-HopSkipDrive Mobility Initiative. Through the generosity of the nation’s largest carmaker, General Motors, foster kids in LA County will be able to visit their grandmas on the weekends, get to school, visit colleges, attend art classes, and much more.
A lot has changed in the world since my childhood. Transportation no longer has to be a barrier for any kid, and kids shouldn’t have to make tough decisions about schools as I did. With the rise of the internet and mobile devices, it’s easier to support the transportation challenges foster kids face today. We should no longer blame inefficient transportation on why we can’t keep foster kids in their schools or from participating in enrichment activities. We have a solution. Selfishly, I wish HopSkipDrive existed when I needed them as a child, but I’m happy we are here now, and that General Motors and CASA believe this is a problem worth solving.
I suppose you could say this is where I was always meant to be, an evolution of my own personal story, a purpose-filled role advocating, educating and ensuring innovation in transportation reaches our most vulnerable one ride at a time.
Senior Director of Public Private Partnerships, HopSkipDrive
More about CASA of Los Angeles-HopSkipDrive Mobility Initiative:
HopSkipDrive is partnering with CASA of Los Angeles and General Motors to provide free rideshare services to foster youth. Every young person in care deserves the opportunity to participate in visitation, services, education and extracurricular activities. In Los Angeles, the challenge of distance and reliable, affordable transportation can make access to these everyday needs difficult. Through this partnership, children/youth can have improved access to a number of services and opportunities, including medical visits, mental health services, family visits, court hearings, tutoring, educational and vocational needs, and social events.