I feel good in myself when I can sit down and listen to someone who has a similar experience to me being in state care. Because what I have been through I can literally say to them – “I am you!”
Yet, when I was going through those experiences I could not even imagine that I would be alive today, because I did have a lot of suicidal thoughts and I even tried to act on them
I thought I could take away the pain by drinking alcohol until I got drunk. I got a razor blade and started to cut my hand – and it was like I could feel the pain running out of my hand through that blood. But then when I become sober and when the water touched the cut and it burned I was like: “Why did I do this!?”
Training to become a social worker
The pain never really goes away but when you reach a point where you can talk about it, that is when you feel like you have strength. What I have been through is the reason why I am studying social work at the Jamaica Theological Seminary (JTS) because I think I can really help other children who have been through worse.
I have the ability to reach out to them and help in any way I can. I want to make that change, especially within state care, because within the homes there are problems. There are a lot of things in there that need to be dealt with. I have lived in four homes and I want to become a part of the system – to become somebody who has authority to make these changes within the homes and help those children.
This year for a summer job I worked as a counsellor at a boys’ schools. Currently I am still at Maxfield Park and many of the girls need help with things like boy problems. Some of them who have been raped have urges they cannot control and so I talk to them: ‘You want to go out late to meet this guy. Do you even know who he is or what he plans on doing?’ That is how I am able to talk them down from it.
Mentoring others in children’s home
There is this particular girl who reminds me of me and where I was. She started smoking and carrying a knife or a pair of scissors to school. Often before she left the house for school I would have to search her bag and take away the weapon and hide it from her. Being there for children like her and being relatable can save a life.
I have met so many other children who have had worse experiences than me. I have had my challenges but I have come out stronger. I lost both my parents at the age of three; at age nine I was being molested by a family member; and then at age 15 I became pregnant with my son – but that has brought so much love into my life.
I want to tell every child who is going through struggles that it is never the end. You can become stronger through this and use the experience to turn around the lives of others. Everyone has the strength within them, they just need the guidance to find it and to make sure their dreams do not get left behind.
Shaneile Hall is a member of the Children’s Advisory Panel (CAP) of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) who are currently preparing for their biennial National Children’s Summit, being supported this year by UNICEF. The Summit, to be held on August 15, will host 1,000+ children, most of them wards of the state.