Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA 27th District) speaking to Ruth Contreras-Arnold during the National Foster Youth Institute's annual Shadow Day.
“Being shadowed by foster youth like Ruth is as much an opportunity for me as it is for her,” Congresswoman Judy Chu said about our day together.


In this op-ed, Ruth Contreras-Arnold explains what it’s like to be in the foster care system, and how a day on Capitol Hill empowered her.

My name is Ruth Contreras-Arnold and I am a nineteen-year-old former foster youth. I have been in and out the child welfare system since I was three years old. I’ve experienced a lot in the younger years of my life: throughout my time in care, I’ve dealt with homelessness, human trafficking, and failed adoption. During my junior year in high school, I was abducted on my way to school and that affected me mentally, physically and emotionally. I was bullied at school and had no one to turn to. My adoptive parents neglected me and failed to provide the attention that was needed. I was often kicked out of the house and verbally abused. My obstacles have not stopped now that I’ve aged out of care. When someone is adopted, that’s not the end of the story. My story is an example of that.

But I, like so many other current and former foster youth, have fought through it. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children & Families’ most recent data, there were 427,910 children in foster care on any given day as of September 2015. In total, more than 670,000 children spent time in foster care that year. Nearly half of those young people were with families not related to them. In 2015, more than 20,000 young people aged out of foster care without a permanent family.

Stability is something new for me and it’s a breath of fresh air to have that now. Peace is a part of me now. Combined with my focus on education, this release has led me to where I am today. I am so grateful for my brothers, who helped me get out of a toxic and dysfunctional environment, for my education, and for the experience I recently had in Washington D.C., where I had the opportunity to discuss my most current obstacles with Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) during Foster Youth Shadow Day on May 24.

Foster Youth Shadow Day happens in May each year, and is a chance for young people in foster care to meet face to face with their representatives in Congress. Through spending time with our representatives, people in foster care like me have the opportunity to better learn how to make change in areas that we care about.

Read the full article: How Foster Youth Shadow Day Helped Me Find Peace | Teen Vogue