Category: Listening Sessions, Personal Stories, The Safety Net, Updates
May 20th, 2022
Contributed by Felicia (Cody) Van Felden
I am a student at Sacramento State University working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. I’m also a former foster youth. There is currently a bill in the California Assembly, the HOPE for Children Act introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner, that would create trust accounts—or “baby bonds”—for long-term foster youth and children who lost a parent to COVID.
If this resource had existed when I was 18 it would have prevented me from experiencing homelessness and the severe trauma I endured as a result of it. And I am hardly alone. In California, approximately 31% of transition-age foster youth experience homelessness, and an estimated one-third of all the nation’s unaccompanied homeless youth are in California.
My childhood was chaotic. I bounced between my biological parents and foster care until the age of four, when my biological brother, sister, and I were adopted by two women–my “two moms.” I lived with them for 13 years and suffered extreme emotional and psychological abuse.
We were yelled at if we needed shampoo. We had to spend our allowance on personal hygiene items. One of my mothers would get frustrated if I asked whether I could eat something— “that’s why we bought it”—the other would yell at me for eating the food. They tended to comment on my physical appearance—I “wasn’t pretty enough”, my skin was “too white”—it took a toll and I was never comfortable wearing a bathing suit around them.
The environment was such that one of my adoptive grandmothers felt perfectly comfortable to look at me and say to my mothers, “Why don’t you just send it back where it came from.”
When I was 16, I finally said “enough” in the best way I knew how. I went to a friend’s house for the weekend without telling my moms. They filed a missing person’s report. A friend got in touch with me (I didn’t have a cell phone so it took some effort) and said the police were looking for me. So I went back home.
It was a Sunday morning and I waited outside for my mothers. When they got home, we had a huge verbal confrontation and one of them grabbed my arms, shaking me. It resulted in bruising, which led to my high school calling Child Protective Services (CPS). Three days later, my parents kicked me out.
I was fortunate to have a friend whose father let me sleep on their sofa. When they came to our house to pick me up, my parents made him sign a piece of paper saying that he was “taking responsibility” for me as if I was something to be sold. This was the first time I experienced housing insecurity.
Not long after that, CPS moved me to a foster home on a 28-day emergency placement. During that period, two Team Decision Making meetings took place to determine whether I could safely return to my adoptive parents. But at the second meeting, one of my mothers said that when I was with them “it was like a dark cloud was around the house,” and since I‘d been gone they were “happy.” I felt as though my heart was ripped out of my chest.
CPS concluded that I should remain in the foster home. My adoptive parents and I were to attend family therapy and have supervised phone calls so that I could return to them. But the therapy and the phone calls never happened, and I never returned. My adoptive parents chose to abandon me.
My time spent in the foster home was not terrible. But when I graduated high school and began college, my foster mother began to take my financial aid. She set up a bank account for it and would make transfers when her own account was too low.
Ultimately, we had a falling out over money. My foster parents wanted to report my adoptive parents for refusing to share their financial information on my federal student aid (FAFSA) application. I feared reporting them would result in my brother being placed back in foster care, which would jeopardize pending scholarships for football and wrestling. This disagreement over pursuing my adoptive parents’ financial resources ultimately led them to kick me out of their house on my 18th birthday. I was homeless.
I had to sleep on floors, sofas, and in cars to keep off of the street. I was in an emotional, financial, and physically abusive relationship. I had to have an abortion. I was sexually assaulted and the responding officer told me at the hospital that it was my fault. My grades plummeted.
After eleven months, my biological uncle found me on Facebook and reached out. He offered me a place to live, and with a stable environment I was finally able to move forward with my life. I went to therapy. I got my grades back on track which kept me from losing my financial aid. I had no worries about where I would sleep or what I would eat. It took me a long time to stop asking if I could eat something in the house—that fear I’d learned with my adoptive parents stayed with me for a long time. But for the first time, I experienced unconditional love and a family capable of working through conflicts without a risk of me getting kicked out. My uncle saved my life and gave me a chance to rebuild.
Had the HOPE for Children Act been in existence I would have had a trust account of up to $8,000 and access to it at age 18. I would have had a lot less trauma to overcome—no homelessness, no sexual assault, no lingering feelings of hopelessness and dread. These accounts could save other children and young adults from experiencing even worse than I did on the streets. Or help them get a start on their education, or pursue an entrepreneurial idea.
To me, a baby bond is the very definition of hope—a lifeline for many who would drown without it.
Felicia (Cody) Van Felden is a student at Sacramento State University and a Youth Advocate with John Burton Advocates for Youth. EPIC, End Child Poverty CA, and Liberation in a Generation are cosponsors of the HOPE for Children Act.