Name: Ciarra Karnes
Hometown: New Castle, PA
Education/Experience: Junior Psychology major, triple minor: Nonprofit Leadership, Communications, Women’s Studies
Current life situation (job, family, etc.): Living in an apartment with two roommates, and have the family that every child deserves
History in the child welfare system: I was placed in care in 2008 at age 16. My parents gave informal custody of me to my grandmother when I was between the ages of 5 and 7. I lived with my grandmother till I turned 16 years old. She unfortunately fell and broke her hip, and had dementia, so my uncle decided to place her into a nursing home. I was given to a family who I knew who offered to take me in. I lived with them for almost a year. During that year they were verbally abusive, and then would not let me leave the house to do anything except work and go to school. They finally decided that they did not want me, and told me to leave. I was placed with another woman who I also knew. She was great in the beginning but then decided that I was her house maid. Case workers did check-in but everything on the outside seemed perfect. I eventually became homeless and started living with other families and in my car during my senior year. I did not want anyone to know what was happening but I did tell my guidance counselor, and my independent living director. I just wanted to get through my senior year and go to college. With their guidance and support that is what I did.
What experience impacted you most while in care? Describe the experience and tell us why: The experience that impacted me the most was the last placement, and when I became homeless. I learned to never let anyone tell me what I am not capable of, because I can do anything I set my mind to. I learned to survive and be self-sufficient through my own experiences but also through the independent living classes. I realized that sometimes people look down on others because of where they came from, but do not try to convince them that does not make you the same, prove to them that you are more than what you were given. I had many eye-opening experiences through everything, and it taught me to never look down on someone for who they are, where they come from, or where they are right now. Most importantly, I realized that good and bad experiences are all blessings if you allow them to be. All of my bad experiences have made me who I am, and have turned into positive items that are helping me reach my potential.
How did the foster care system help you? What is your #1 recommendation for youth in the foster care system now?: The foster system helped me so much. The system helped me to become who I am today, showed me what a family should and should not be, how to love and not to love, how to trust, and how to be independent. My number one recommendation would to be never lose sight of what you are capable of no matter what else is going on in your life, and do not let your circumstances define who you are.
Alumni Youth Advisory Board
The Alumni Board would like to educate, advocate, and form partnerships with our youth and families involved in the foster care system. Our goal is to provide real life success stories and bring hope to those youth who struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We seek our alumni to have a voice of reason that will be necessary to embody change within our substitute care system. Our aims is to have the alumni provide insight and remain connected with key issues within the system, as well as provide information to the youth about ways to successfully transition from the foster care system.