José Ángel Pérez

José Ángel Pérez

Cool. so I’m from Queens, New York; I grew up all over NYC in the foster care system.  I entered the system when I I was three years old. I lived in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, everywhere except Staten island. I moved from place to place, but I settled in Queens. 

I sadly experienced all forms of abuse in those places. To be a poster child for the foster care system now means that I carry a responsibility, that I can use all of the pain I experienced as power. The pain was crippling; it used to handicap me socially and domesticall; it handicapped everything. But now, because I’ve learned and I understand that same pain, I can transform it and use it to help others. It has become my source of power. When I talk about my past traumas, I’m talking about it to help others heal. 

I feel like I’m lucky sometimes.

Like I had the good luck of the draw because I strongly believe that if I hadn’t met certain people in my life, I probably wouldn’t be here. I recognize that I’m an anomaly; I’m the exception, not the rule. And if I’m lucky, there has to be a reason why I persevered through the troubled waters I sailed across, and that is why I am still here. 

People who have landed in the places I’ve landed typically don’t win; we typically don’t win. These systems were designed that way.

Then at some point, you buy into it. You buy into the idea that these systems are not creating these circumstances; now, this is your lifestyle. It’s still the system, but you’re disconnected from the why of it, and you become complacent to your own suffering; I can’t do that. So I had to invest in my self-development. Pain is just a moment sometimes– the things that I’ve been through, I’ve been through ’em, and it’s like, I’m still here. I’m more powerful than whatever it is that I went through. So for me, There’s no reason not to be focused on hope. There’s no reason not to be focused on your dreams. You have to have some sort of hope for the future. 

It’s important for our leaders to be aware of their power, be aware of their influence. We complain about people who are bad influences. But I think we should encourage people to influence others in different ways, better ways, like the people who were the problem, are truly the solutions. Representative Sean Maloney said what if the people you think are the problem who were once the problem are now the solution. Even though it’s ridiculous to think of a foster care child as the problem, you know, how ridiculous that sounds, how backward that sounds? The foster care system has completely and utterly lost its mind and is not addressing the problem. Our communities look at foster care children as literal prisoners; they might as well have returned from a prison stint. They might as well have been coming home from a prison stint. But to think that a child who was abandoned, who was hurt in some type of way, to think that they are hurt, and the child welfare system will still treat them as if they did something wrong, that’s not right; it’s not cool.

Lessons one learns in the foster care system

The lessons I learned in the foster care system are all survival lessons: don’t say certain things, don’t speak on AND in certain situations, and don’t be seen at a certain hour. Those are the lessons that you learn in the foster care system. And then, when you get out of it and educate yourself, you’ll see how foster care parents are not trained. People have good intentions sometimes. They have good intentions, but if they don’t have the proper tools to carry out their intentions, then they are just not going to do what they aim to do. And then, they will end up frustrated about it, and any existing abuse will probably continue. Foster care parents are not being looked at and vetted properly. That relationship is bad, very bad. It needs to be improved. You can’t be a parent if you yourself didn’t have a good example or if you need training or you need help. I took fatherhood classes. I needed that. It’s not enough to be well-intentioned. It’s not enough. You have to be well prepared and well trained because this system is not set up in a way to help foster parents or foster children succeed.

My experience with the foster care system is the reason why I’m proud to be a father. Because of that experience, I know what a father looks like when he’s not being a father. So I know how not to be a father. You’re not supposed to learn like that. You shouldn’t be learning like that. You should be learning how to do things the way it’s supposed to, but for people who suffer, for people who go through things, sometimes, we don’t get that good example. We don’t get an example of how to be, so we need to learn from the void and absences in our lives. That’s what the foster care system did for me.

I’m most proud of my baby. I’m proud of being a father. I’m proud of that opportunity to be the man that I always needed in my life. My baby is five years old. She is the love of my life. She’s going into kindergarten this school year. She loves ballet and playing piano, and she loves Gabby dollhouse, Elsa from Frozen, and Peppa Pig, and purple and pink are her favorite colors. She loves spaghetti. She’s amazing. I’m also most proud of my ability to feel. I’m also proud that  I haven’t lost my sense of feeling because I think that’s what keeps my humanity intact; it’s an act of resistance because the system did not win, and I didn’t become desensitized. 

I came to work for the Children’s Defense Fund-New York in 2022 and am very excited to work on this project: YouthNPower. My vision is to see this project through and hopefully really enrich both my life and others’ lives, too. My hope for the future is that while in our pilot project, we are working with youth transitioning out of the foster care system, I want to go full circle and work with children that are being initially placed in foster care. That initial encounter with the child welfare system is very important, extremely important. We need to set the tone for how we’re going to care for children moving on; every policy should not be cookie-cutter. 

Think about that. Transition Age Youth go through something in the foster care system, but they’re exiting the system. This is a traumatic event that they’re leaving. They’re leaving a traumatic event, but the trauma that happens before you get into the foster care system and the trauma that happens when you get into the foster care system itself are not addressed until you exhibit some type of behavior. Our children’s health should be the number one priority, and we should be proactive instead of reactive. Proactive means that when you first encounter a child, and that child went through a traumatic event, you address it and help them heal; if not, it is literally a miscarriage in your ability to provide services.