When Athena was 7 years old, her mother died. She spent six months in foster care before being reunited with her father – what many thought would be a happy ending. Unfortunately, going back to her father turned out to be a five-year nightmare of abuse and neglect for Athena and her two siblings. But committed to creating a different reality and a better future for her and her siblings, Athena became an effective self-advocate. At the age of 14, she orchestrated her and her siblings’ placement back into the foster care system.
Athena is among the 38% of foster youth in California who are reunited with their birth parents. She is also among the small percentage of foster youth who are reunited but experience a negative reunification.
“I became my own advocate early on. I didn’t want to be sold into marriage to a much older man at the age of 13 or lose my innocence. I wanted to go to college, take care of my siblings, put food on the table and live a normal life. So I learned how to advocate for myself within the foster care system to get the things I wanted. It started with my learning how to draft contracts from my father’s construction business when I was younger. Then I learned how to draft reports from books I borrowed in my school library. I gathered every fact I could to combat having my pleas for help ignored, and raise the alarm to social workers that things were not “OK” at home. When I was 14, all those years of efforts paid off. We were taken from my father and the one-room garage we had been living in, and again placed into foster care. That day changed my life.”
Today, Athena is a child welfare and foster care policy consultant, writer, college student and substitute mom to her two siblings.
“I’m trying to juggle a lot as a 23-year-old. I’m practically Mom to Martin (21) and Stephanie (18). They’re my world and come to me for everything. I’m also attending community college now and busy preparing for law school in the next few years.
“My interest in law and foster care public policy started during college back in 2013 when I was doing an internship in Washington, D.C. At the time, the Supreme Court had decided that DOMA (“The Defense of Marriage Act”) was unconstitutional, which is a huge win for the LGBT community. I also was publishing my policy recommendation for Congress called “The Right To A Forever Family” which discusses how LGBT individuals are barred for adopting due to the “single” clause which bars single individuals, widows and predominantly the LGBT community. This being because many states refused to recognize marriage as anything more than a union between a man and woman. Many states actively barred anyone who was legally of a “single” status from adopting. My policy recommendation asked that the clause no longer be enforced or removed all together so that LGBT individuals who seek to adopt at sometimes higher rates than heterosexual individuals, can adopt without discrimination. My recommendation sought to close the “single” loop hole.
“At the same time I was writing my policy recommendation on “The Right To A Forever Family”, I found my own forever family. I was adopted out of nonprofit Five Acres and found my forever family at the age of 21.
“Ultimately that’s what I want to do for a career: become a lawyer and a judge to improve foster care policies.”