FIJ Quarterly - Fall 2022 Edition

My Perspective Liliana Cory

suffered from a series of strokes that made it impossible for her to work. That combination changed her emotional stability and her ability to provide financially; the home environment became hostile. The only thing that made a difference was the community that I still gained from being adopted by my aunt. Her larger family and her children became my saving grace. My sister especially got me through my senior year into college, an achievement I thought I would never achieve. This larger family continues to support me to this day. Through my undergraduate degree, my master’s degree, my career, my homeownership, and, more recently, the death of my adoptive mother, this larger family continues to hold me in profound and vulnerable ways. Although my family story had many ups and downs, I want to make one thing very clear; families are complex. I would like to say after my adoption I lived happily ever after, however, I did not. It was a struggle, but a struggle I would continue to choose over the other options I was presented with as a child. I would choose this family over the system any day. My family is full of nuance, just as other families are full of nuance. Families, regardless of how deserving or functional we think they are, deserve dignity, humanity, and support. My parents struggled with drug addiction, but that didn’t mean they did not love me. My aunt and my mother did not get along, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t good reason. My aunt was a supportive person but was homophobic. Families are complex; this includes kinship families. Systems are designed with such a black-and-white mentality that the people who experience those systems lose their nuance and humanity by having to be a certain way. I have hope that it doesn’t have to be this way. I think states have the opportunity to learn from lived experts who come through their systems. For me, these are the key lessons I take away:

work. The community came in the form of her larger family; 12 brothers and sisters and her mother. That family quickly became my family. Even though my brother and I wanted to be placed back with our biological parents, it was comforting being a part of something bigger than our nuclear family we grew up with. Tragically, my biological mother died three months before my 13th birthday, and we were faced with a life-changing choice. My biological father decided to terminate his rights, and the state began the conversation of adoption. My aunt and my brother were thrilled with this idea. I was more hesitant for a couple of reasons: 1. I already had a mother. (One that I was grieving and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to). 2. I didn’t have the words for it, but I knew I wasn’t exactly straight, that I was attracted to a multitude of people as my sexuality began to develop. To be clear, I love Jesus. The people in the church gave me safe sanction and offered me a profound sense of community that mourned, cried, and celebrated with me during that especially hard time of my life, but the thought always lingered in the back of my mind; what if this community knew? What if they knew I was the person they were talking about as “sinful” or as someone who was not “Christ-like.” So when I was presented with the option of being adopted or going to a group home, I chose to be adopted. I chose to hide. I had already experienced homelessness and did not want to even entertain the risk that came with “coming out” or, arguably worse, being separated from my brother. After we were adopted, that’s when a multitude of things turned for the worse. The support my brother and I received from the state decreased and was eventually halted to a stop. In addition to this, my now adoptive mother

The day I went into foster care for my third and final time was like any other. I was sitting in gym class waiting to watch the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” video on water safety when my gym teacher came over to me and said I needed to go to the principal's office. This immediately threw me off, considering I never got in trouble at school. School was my safe place, the place where I was smart, well-mannered, and had a community of people who cared about me. When I entered the principal's office, my heart completely sank when I saw the social worker. After an hour of silence and me fighting back tears, the social worker asked, “Do you have any family in the area?” I wasn’t answering the questions the social worker was asking; I was only thinking about my brother, demanding to know where he was. Finally, the social worker leveled with me and said, “The sooner I can find placement, the sooner I can get you to your brother.” With that, I caved, “Well, I have an aunt.” Being placed with my aunt was a big risk in my mind. She and my biological mother did not get along and have had a lot of tension in the past. I knew my parents would not be happy with us being placed with her. It was a complicated transition. I was fairly independent as a child, and suddenly the world that I knew before completely changed. However, one thing became very clear, my aunt cared deeply about my brother and me; she held us at night when we cried, supported us when we felt hopeless and disappointed in my parents, and most of all, she kept us even though it was difficult. She was a single mom of two, working daycare making next to peanuts, and she took on two additional children when her biological kids were leaving the house. She needed financial support and a community to help raise us. Thankfully, the state did support us. They helped with items like summer camp and childcare so she could

Liliana Cory

1. Kinship families need financial support. 2. Kinship families should be systematically respected to the same degree that foster parents are. 3. Kinship families bring community that carries through life. 4. We cannot rely on youth’s silence to keep them housed in homes that are not affirming to LGBTQ+ youth. _________________________ Liliana Cory (she/they) is passionately dedicated to the voices of those impacted by state systems. Lily is the Adolescent Programs Co-Design Manager at the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families. As a foster alumna, Lily has worked directly with young people through her volunteer work as GAL in Pierce County and as a caseworker for BRS and ICWA cases.

14 | FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022

FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022 | 15

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