Health

Special Bond Helps Foster Youth Overcome Obstacles

Life has thrown many obstacles into the path to adulthood for Leticia. The soon-to-be former foster youth could have let any one of those daunting circumstances detour her from any goals or aspirations she had.

Instead, with the help of a San Diego County social worker who empowered her, she has conquered the roadblocks before her and has a clear plan to help others in similar situations follow in her footsteps.

“I had a very angry teenager who has become a mother, high school graduate, college student and employee and it’s kind of incredible to watch,” said Sara Whitney, the social worker assigned to Leticia when she was 12 years old. “It’s neat. I knew it was in there.”

Leticia recently wrote a letter to Whitney thanking her and expressing her admiration for the effect she had on her life.

The journey to the present was anything but smooth for Leticia. A week after her ninth birthday, she was picked up at school and removed from her family. At first, she was moved from home to home, and she estimates she spent about three months on average in each home.

Her life was disrupted and she was only able to see her siblings once a month. Each move meant a different school and eventually she stopped going. She was at a point where she felt like no one cared for her or was looking out for her.

Enter Whitney.

“She was a challenge. She didn’t like me. Her siblings didn’t like me,” said Whitney. “They didn’t think I would stick around, and I understood that. They had a long history before I walked into the picture.”

It took time, but that initial impression is a distant memory, wiped away by a bond created over the next several years.

In her letter, Leticia acknowledges her early impression of Whitney.

“I remember when we first met. You were definitely not my favorite person. I considered you the enemy,” Leticia wrote. “In my eyes you were just another car driving by. You’d be gone as soon as the light changed to green.”

Instead, Whitney believed in Leticia and worked to instill that same sense of belief in her.

“She’s just a good person. She has so much potential and is really smart,” said Whitney. “She just had to know that herself. I couldn’t tell her that or make her believe that.

“I just stuck around and let her know I’m still going to be here and she’s going to be whoever she’s going to be.”

Leticia said she realized Whitney wasn’t going anywhere when she became pregnant with her first child.

“We went through a tough patch when I got pregnant with my first child, but she was there for me and I really pushed her to her limit,” Leticia said.

Whitney said it made her a better social worker, though.

“She challenged me, but it was good. You need that,” she said. “You need to know what you’re capable of and that you can get through it and I knew she could. I knew we’d be OK.

“She made me a better worker. Absolutely.”

Leticia entered the Extended Foster Care program for foster youth between the ages of 18 and 21. She switched to a different social worker about a year ago and she turns 21 in January. But she and Whitney have kept in constant contact and plan to stay close in the future.

“I told her, ‘if you call or text, I will answer,’” said Whitney.

Leticia says she reaches out to Whitney a couple of times a month with questions or just to keep in touch.

Leticia is currently working a retail job and going to school. She’s the first in her family to attend college. She’s balancing school, work and raising her two children with help from her boyfriend.

“She’s a great mom,” said Whitney.

Leticia is in school to be a social worker and feels her experience gives her the perspective she will need to be successful. “I got to see it from the inside out. I just feel like I can help a lot more and have seen both sides of it,” she said.

“She’s got that talent when she speaks, people listen,” said Whitney. “Not everyone has that. She has a lot to say and I think she could really help youth in our system.

“She’s been there and she gets it.”

Leticia’s thank-you letter ends with an inspiring message that conveys what Whitney has meant to her.

“I cannot even begin to explain how much of a difference you have made in my life. I admire so much about you. You have inspired me to want to help foster youth, and give back to young people in my situation.

“The gray skies will clear up one day. You helped me see the light and I want to do that for others. So I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done for me. You continue to be an inspiration in my life.”

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact