Youth Voices: Lilly’s Story
By Shaoming Chang
County of Orange Social Services Agency
Lilly, 20, is laser-focused when it comes to meeting her goals for the future. She works full-time as a peer support mentor for a nonprofit organization and recently earned her associate degree in psychology from Saddleback College. She will attend California State University, Fullerton in the fall to study school psychology and marriage and family therapy. Lilly plans to pursue a master’s degree and start her own practice working with youth in foster care. She’s also a mom to a toddler.
Lilly credits her time in foster care for motivating and positioning her to realize her educational dreams. “I entered foster care when I was 10 and started outlining my goals,” she said. Lilly’s social workers told her about the available resources for children in care, which inspired her to make the most out of a difficult situation. “Knowing what was available to me kept me on track to do well,” Lilly said.
Living in a short-term residential therapeutic program (STRTP) — formerly known as a group home — and seeing other youth struggle with different issues also contributed to Lilly’s spirit of determination. “I saw others doing hardcore drugs and some were in and out of jail and on probation,” she said. “It was my reminder of things not to get involved with — what I didn’t want to be like. My mom’s behavior was another daily
reminder,” Lilly said.
Lilly’s early childhood was spent living on the street with her mom. “It was hard and we struggled,” she said. “I never want to be in that situation again.” Lilly experienced a different type of struggle while placed with her resource parents and the STRTP. “I wish I had better experiences with my resource parents,” she said. Lilly also longed for a better connection and relationship with her social workers. “One time, I ran away and stood across the street from the STRTP just to get my social worker’s attention,” she said.
Not all of Lilly’s relationships were bleak. She grew close to some STRTP staff members. “I still keep in touch with them,” she said. Lilly also found a strong support system through resources like wraparound services and the Orangewood Foundation. Because of these supports, Lilly is able to balance work and school life while being a mom. With her fierce tenacity and personal experience, there is no doubt Lilly will become a strong advocate for youth in foster care.