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Kenny Pierre, Family Continuity Board Member, has been a Direct Care Youth Counselor at Northeast American Family Institute (NAFI) and has over 15 years of personal experience within the child welfare system. Kenny was a volunteer mentor for Project Youth Empowerment Services (Y.E.S.), a summer camp counselor at the YMCA of the North Shore and spent three years working with youth at risk from the Department of Youth Services. Kenny graduated from Bunker Hill Community College with an A.S. in Criminal Justice and is soon to graduate with his B.S. in Criminal Justice at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
I am 22 years old, and shortly will be graduating from college with my Bachelors Degree. Soon, I expect to pursue a full time career working with children and youth, perhaps for DYS, or one of its nonprofit providers. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished, but getting here has been a long and difficult journey.
I was born in Haiti, and moved with my family to Massachusetts before I could remember, settling in Medford. When I was 6 years old, I was removed from my home by DSS (now DCF) because of reports from my school and their suspicion that I was being abused at home. I was sent to a group home, where I spent the next two years. It was not a happy experience, I felt like I was dumped there, with my worker rarely visiting, and my family not making me feel very welcome at home either. When they said I could leave, I didn’t return home, but was sent to live with my grandmother in Haiti for a couple of years. It was different, but I did settle in. When I was sent back to my home in Medford, I realized that I’d missed a lot. I’d been out of US schools, I didn’t have any friends, I was used to speaking Creole, I was behind in class, and I began to get into trouble once again. In pretty short order, I was back in group care. From the time I was 11 until I graduated high school I spent most of the rest of my childhood living in group homes, treatment centers, and eventually at Family Continuity’s SAIL Independent Living Program.
During most of this time, I rarely saw my worker, I went on few home visits, and really just felt dumped. Sometimes I got close to staff who would leave. Other times, I couldn’t get along with staff, who it seemed would never leave. Mostly though, I was just always aware that I wasn’t a regular kid, I didn’t fit. I was big and strong and a good athlete, but instead of that working for me, I think I may have intimidated some of the staff. So, I basically shut down, and kept to myself. These were not happy times because I couldn’t figure out who to go to for advice or friendship.
When we were talking about my working on this article, Skip told me something that I really think applied to me. He said that a friend had once told him that kids are all different, they need a lot of different things, but the one thing that every single kid needs is some adult to be absolutely crazy about them. I don’t know why some people attach themselves to you, when others turn their backs, but this was me, and until I found that person, I was going nowhere.
I was sent to SAIL to help me prepare for life on my own, and also began to attend Beverly High School. Here is where I met that person, or perhaps I should say persons. SAIL staff Amy and Kathy really took an interest and stuck by me. At the high school, the principal took time also and became my friend and supporter. He still is today. With more confidence, I did well at SAIL and at Beverly High. I tried out for football, made the team, and played for 2 years. On the team I felt like I fit in, I like team sports. I went to the junior prom, I felt normal, like a regular kid. Each of these was an opportunity for me to live life like everyone else, to be independent. Each of these were little turning points for me, and I did well. When I graduated I went to Bunker Hill Community College, and then to UMass Boston, where I’ll graduate from soon.
Skip posed a few questions to me to help others help others understand and improve the foster care system, here they are, and these are my answers:
“What advice do you have for other kids coming into the “system”? My advice is, don’t let your situation define you, be who you are, not who they expect you to be. Find something to give you a better focus, like sports, or reading, or a hobby. You have a lot of time on your hands growing up, without focus, you won’t go anywhere. Finally, find someone to care about you, and not give up on you.
“What things should the child welfare system consider if it wants to do better by the kids and families they serve?” Please don’t let kids feel forgotten. A family visit, or even a worker who shows up makes a big difference in making a kid feel important. Give them more chances, and if they can handle it, freedom to be like other kids. Please don’t let your staff be overwhelmed and undertrained.
“What do you want for your life?” I want to graduate, and stay in the field of helping people. I have worked part time while I’ve been in school, with delinquent kids and really enjoy it. Mostly, I want to have my own family. I want to have family that chats at dinner, does normal things with each other. More than anything, I want to have no unfinished business. I mean, that now that I’m on my own, I have a lot of life to live, a lot of things to do.
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