Former Hope Center At Pullen Student Writes Award-Winning Handbook For Youth in Foster Care
We’re about to tell you a story about a young woman who became an advocate for the generations of young people in foster care that will come behind her.
Meet Ángela Quijada-Banks. She is an award-winning author, wife, certified holistic health coach and founder of her own company. She’s a California resident but has North Carolina roots. Just last year Wake County Human Services and the Hope Center at Pullen – a United Way-funded partner – invited her to fly across the country to provide support for Wake County foster teens to successfully navigate the foster care system and take charge of their own healing processes.
Her story matters to these teens because at one point, Ángela was also a young person with big dreams in Wake County’s foster care system. Those big dreams have turned into a passion for advocacy and in fact, she recently published a book called “The Black Foster Youth Handbook” that features 50+ lessons that she gleaned from her own experience between the ages of 16 and 19.
“The pandemic is what really fired me up about this book. I wanted to create an avenue of empowerment and motivation for youth experiencing foster care during a global pandemic,” she explains. “I started to look and see if there was any sort of handbook for youth by a person with lived experience in foster care out there and there wasn’t.”
The book is broken into four parts, into what Ángela calls the R-E-A-L (Root, Envision, Ascension, and Liberation) success model. She says that the book’s focus is on helping foster youth take practical steps to holistically heal from their experiences as well as to help supportive adults reflect on themselves, so that they can best support youth in care.
Ángela knows personally what liberation feels like because she worked hard to liberate herself from her own foster care experience and to guarantee that no future foster youth will have the same experience as she did.
“I entered the foster system at 16 and had to forcibly transition out at 19. My guardian ad litem was removed from my case a couple of years prior when attempting to support me through a placement transition,” she explains. “I didn’t really have people to advocate for me when navigating a placement in foster care where I didn’t feel safe.”
It was after Ángela tried to report an unsafe incident in her foster care placement to a case manager that she received an email explaining that she was being immediately removed from the home. She had just 7 days to find a new place on her own.
At the time that Ángela was in foster care in North Carolina, all youth would “age out” of the foster care system at age 18. Some youth, like Ángela, qualified for foster care placements after the age of 18 but many did not. As a result, many foster youth were thrust into self-sufficiency before they were ready to carry that burden.
“I called my dad, the one I was removed from. He responded and helped me through that entire move,” she shares. “I found a place on Craigslist. I was about to start summer classes at NCCU. It was a horrible time of trying to figure out how I was going to have stability and mental peace so I could focus on my classes that were about to start.”
That period of her life didn’t get easier. Ángela was following her original dreams of double majoring in biology and psychology. She transferred to NC State and moved in with her dad, who encouraged her to only focus on school while he focused on paying the rent. But then, 2 months into the semester, her dad became chronically ill and was eventually diagnosed with kidney failure. He lost his job and was hospitalized. It came down to Ángela to figure out how to financially support them both.
“The definition of success and the way we view life is personal,” she says. “As much as I wanted that to be the time I was able to finish school and graduate, it wasn’t. It was hard to sit with that.”
To cope with her depression and navigate her new financial and emotional obligations, Ángela began to chronologically log her experiences on her website so that she wouldn’t forget anything she’d overcome. Those experiences include when she took a job canvassing for voter registrations in Phoenix, AZ, her travels to Houston, Okinawa, and Los Angeles, and eventually when she became engaged to her now husband in 2018. That exercise is what eventually inspired her to start her book.
She watched 200+ YouTube videos just to learn how to write a book. She also leaned on the storytelling experience she gained during a summer internship program with Hope Center at Pullen, a United Way-funded partner, to inspire her.
“When I first got connected [with Hope Center at Pullen], I was just opening up from being mute between the ages of 15 and 16. We collaborated with the Raleigh Review and there was a whole segment with other youth who were writing about their experiences, not just in foster care but in life. I wrote my poem called ‘A Life In Silence.’ We had a huge launch event and it was the first time I had ever shared what I wrote out loud with other people. I talked about my experience in poverty. I spoke about it like I was a character and at the end, you found out it was me. It was a beautiful experience to be able to share, through art, the pain I was carrying. It was the first time I internalized that what I shared can make a difference.”
Ángela is more than a writer. Through an organization called SAYSO, Ángela and her peers advocated for the NC legislature to expand foster care so that all 18-year-olds in foster care would qualify for services until they turn 21. In 2017 that legislation was passed, benefiting all foster teens coming behind Ángela.
As Meredith Yuckman, Executive Director of The Hope Center at Pullen explains, “When the NC Legislature extended foster care to age 21, they not only provided valuable time for youth to build the skills needed to live independently, they also decided to keep the door to services open. Many youth are tired of being in foster care and when they turn 18, they decide to go their own way. They underestimate how hard adulting is and they overestimate how prepared they are to be on their own. Thanks to the efforts of advocates like Ángela, if a foster teen decides to walk away, they now have the option to walk back in and receive the support and guidance that all young people need to reach a safe and stable adulthood.”
To date, “The Black Foster Youth Handbook” has sold more than 10,000 copies worldwide. Ángela’s work has been recognized with a 1st place Firebird Book Award and she was also nominated for the 52nd annual NAACP Image Awards in the Outstanding Literary Work category, alongside President Barack Obama. You can order a copy of her book on Amazon or at her website, www.soulfulliberation/books.