By Lindsay Spann, 17, Concord High School
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Illustration by Oscar Rodriguez, 17, Vista HS

Sitting in a spacious classroom, Yuliana Campos spoke confidently about how she was going to go to college and be a nurse. She spoke of her dream that her four-year-old twins Robert and Eric might be lawyers someday. You would never know that she was only 18. You would never know about the horrible things she’s endured—Her family beat her, she got pregnant at 13 and she ended up living in foster care. This is her story—how she feels about motherhood, being a teen and being in the parachute of the public system.

Yuliana seemed reflective as she spoke about growing up in a chaotic and confusing home in Los Angeles. "I get sad, but what can I do? I have to worry about myself now, and my kids. I can’t dwell on the past anymore. Life goes on, I gotta move on."

Her voice became quiet as she described the violence she faced as a child. "I was screaming on the inside, but on the outside I wasn’t saying anything.

"My mom, my dad, my aunts, my uncles, everybody [hit me] for little things, for not taking out the trash, for not cleaning something—anything—for borrowing their clothes—oh yeah! That was always there, the physical violence, they always hit me. To them, that’s disciplining, but in reality they were just taking out their anger on me.

"They’d hit me with a belt, the hand—anything—a shoe, the cord wires. It was crazy. One time, one of my aunts, she was hitting me, and I got so frustrated and tired, that I just picked up my shirt and say, ‘go ahead, I already got used to it, so what? Go ahead, hit me!’ That was terrible.

"I honestly feel that if I didn’t have my kids and everything that I went through, I think my life would be a lot different. I don’t think I would be going to school. I think I would be in jail or in some negative thing. Or even to the point where I would even take my own life because I didn’t care. So I’m glad I have my kids because I have something to live for."

‘I’m pregnant?’

But that’s not how she felt when she found out she was pregnant at 13. She remembered being terrified, especially when she discovered she was having twins. Her mother insisted that she have an abortion, but Yuliana couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she moved in with her boyfriend and his mom. When the twins were born, she said she felt overwhelmed. "When I first started taking care of them, at night, when they fell asleep, I just started crying, crying nonstop. God, I’m 14 and I have twins."

The twins were eight months old when a neighbor reported her family to Social Services—her mother had been caught hitting her sister. The cops came and wrote a report to the Department of Children and Family Services, sending Yuliana into the foster care system. "I didn’t want to go … but I had to," she said.

Over the next few years, Yuliana and her sons bounced from one foster home to another, trying to find a place that would take a teen mother and two children. After five or six placements, they finally landed at the Salvation Army Booth Memorial Center in Highland Park. Even though Booth offered Yuliana everything from therapy to job experience, she had mixed feelings about it.
"It has its good and bad. They provide childcare, food, shelter, clothes, the school. We have access to all of that and I think it’s wonderful because it would have been a lot harder out there by myself. I could still go to high school and graduate, but it would have been more of a struggle, and this makes it a little easier, being in the system."

Yuliana spoke proudly about graduating from high school—the first in her family to do so—and described how much she had been helped by Booth’s therapy and parenting classes. She said Booth had helped her learn how to nurture her boys in ways her family had never been able to love her. "I learned how to cope with them, have a lot of patience … If I hadn’t gone to parenting class, I think I would have done it my way, the way I saw in my family, by hitting them and all that, and that’s not the correct way to discipline them."

Dr. Betty Bass, acting associate director of Booth, said Yuliana was more mature than many of the other girls at Booth, which serves abused teens, many of whom also have children. "Yuliana was able to take in her past and deal with it, and move on. She was a good role model for the other girls," Dr. Bass said.

It’s no fun in foster care

Even though Booth was providing support, Yuliana didn’t like some things about the facility. She said she got tired of the strict rules—such as the rule that you can’t leave without written permission from your social worker. Some of the other girls, who swore, smoked, stole and did drugs, were a bad influence on her sons, she said.

"Our girls are very angry and depressed when they come here, so they do swear … we do have that problem, but it’s pretty common within foster care at this level," Dr. Bass said.

Yuliana felt the staff did not do enough to stop the girls from misbehaving. "The students pretty much get to do what they want… Even in the past, lawyers and social workers have said that this environment doesn’t encourage the girls."

Dr. Bass said the girls, who have often been placed at 15 to 16 previous foster homes before coming to Booth, need structure and therapeutic help before they can change their behavior. "It doesn’t happen overnight … From my point of view they [the staff] encourage the girls all the time … I think they discipline the kids, but I don’t think it happened quick enough for Yuliana. Yuliana did make such an effort to change her life and turn it around, and take advantage of what was given to her, and she didn’t see the other residents doing that for themselves, and she got very upset about that. That was one of her major complaints—she’s working this hard, but the other residents aren’t working as hard as she is."

She wants a loving family

In addition to dealing with living in foster care, Yuliana worked hard at bettering her relationship with her family. "I have my family but they’re not the family I want them to be. A lot of conflict. It has made me sad and frustrated … When I go to therapy with my mom, I say, ‘Sometimes I want you to give me a kiss or a hug, or tell me I love you.’ It’s hard for her to do that. So finally I said, I’m not gonna ask her anymore. I’ll get that love and affection from my kids," Yuliana said.

"I think she shows it more, not in words, but she expresses her love more in her actions, like in picking me up, or buying me this or that. Not that she’s buying my love. But she’s improved, she’s come a long way. Like with me, she never really talked to me about sex or anything like that. So now with my sister she does it different. She’s talked her about sex, and she has her on the pill."

Yuliana still sees the father of the twins occasionally, but he hasn’t been very interested in his children. "The first year he was there, but the second year he started fading away because of his friends, you know. Oh, it’s responsibility, like with twins, he couldn’t handle it.

"I say to myself, he’s the one who’s missing out … I tell him ‘When the kids grow up, and they understand what’s going on, they’re not going to want you in their lives. And you’re gonna regret it.’ It’s hard, but you also get a reward out of it being a mom, the smiles, the tears, everything, it’s a wonderful feeling. But at first, believe me, it took time. I’m not the best mother in the world. It was much harder when I was 14, it was real tough."

With a sigh, Yuliana said, "I wake up every morning and ask myself, ‘Man, how do I do it?’ I just get up in the morning and do what I have to do. And also because I have people on my back, like you have to do good or else you look like a bad mother. That’s my fear. Like if I mess up, they’re going to take my kids away or something. I want to do good. I want to get educated, I want to go to school. I have my goals, my plans, what I want to do."

Booth is not perfect, but it’s a start for girls who want to take responsibility for their choices. Yuliana, who has now left Booth for a transitional living program, is a brave and strong dandelion who has crept up through the cement sidewalk to reach up for the sun. Her courage and strength is being learned by her children by her own example.