Abusive childhood motivates Carolina woman to advocate for children

Writer’s note: This article refers to child abuse. For this article, for her safety and well-being, the interviewee will go under the alias – Amber P.  

The late abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” 

Growing up, Amber P. knew this firsthand. She didn’t have what many would call a normal childhood. Instead of feeling safe, she had to endure trauma, which would shape her into adulthood and want to become an advocate who protects children from the trauma she endured. 

Amber said she advocates for children to protect them, foster their growth and provide them information for their educational growth.  

Amber and her little sister were taken away from their single mother when they were young and had to enter the foster care system before being adopted by their aunt.  

Her childhood  

“I remember being put in a group home and taken from our mom,” Amber said. “I was about 4 (years old).”  

She said their mom was on drugs and recalled having visits from the state. However, the state did not see a reason to intervene because the children had food and shelter and their situation was deemed as being safe. Eventually, they caught her mother with drugs in her system. Amber said in the past, if Child Protective Services saw children with food and shelter, they said the child is safe. 

She said they lived with a Hispanic family and they were unkind to her and her sister. She said she believes it is because she and her sister did not speak Spanish.  

“The other family we lived with was a wealthy lady with three daughters of her own,” she said. “She was not nice; I think it’s because we were not her own children. We were restricted from a lot of things her daughters could do.”  

Amber voiced that back then, the late 1990s to the early 2000s, when people would foster kids, the state would not only pay that family, but they would get extra things like EBT — especially if that family had children of their own.  

Amber and her sister moved in with her aunt on her mother’s side when she was 6 years old.  

“Life was pretty smooth in the beginning,” she said. “She treated us well, had a room and beds for us. She was never under the influence. She treated us like we were her own children.”  

Amber said that it takes about a year for adoptions to be finalized because Child Protective Services come into the home to make sure the person who is adopting is financially and mentally stable and makes sure the home has everything it needs for a child to live there safely.  

CPS would check on her and her sister a few times a month.  

It was 2001 and Amber was 7 years old when the adoption was finalized. Her sister was 6 years old.  

Her aunt got married in 2003, and Child Protective Services did not come back to interview or investigate her aunt’s husband.  

She said they should have.  

He started molesting her when she was in the fourth grade. She said the molestation started when she was 9 years old and continued until she was 14 years old.  

She said it made her focus on her schoolwork. She knew with good grades she could go to college and obtain scholarships to get away from her aunt’s husband. 

Amber said her grades were so good, the South Carolina Governor’s School in Greenville, South Carolina, would mail her a letter yearly to attend the school due to her hard work, but her uncle would always say no. This school was appealing because it was a high school where students had the opportunity to live on campus.   

Every year when he said “no,” it would make her cry because she knew it was her way out. Whenever she would tell other adults about the school, they would want to raise money for her to attend.  

Her uncle would say no. She said it was because he knew she would expose the molestation once she got there. It was his tactic to ensure she did not tell what he was doing to her.

“When you have parents, who don’t realize your capabilities or successes, you’re not able to flourish the way you could,” she said. 

Sphere of Influence 

If someone utters or hears Sphere of Influence, it normally relates to international relations, but for Amber, sphere of influence related to parenting.  

“You have to pay attention to who you associate with and who your child interacts with,” she said. “If a child is normally around people who aren’t learning or growing, they too will pick up those traits.”  

She said she does not want that for her kids. She and her husband exercise with the kids, she is active in the community because she said it sets a standard for her children to possibly do the same in the future.  

“It’ll make them want to stay active and keep it going for themselves when they get older,” she said.  

She said her sphere of influence was poor when she was younger. The adults in her life were not trying to better themselves.  

They also wanted to do the bare minimum for her and her little sister. Amber said they had food, shelter, and clothes, but adults did a poor job of communicating or cultivating their academics or interests.  

Amber did not have the chance to attend extracurriculars because she did not have an adult who would provide the transportation that was needed for extracurricular activities. Since she could not participate in extracurricular activities, she could not add those things to her college applications.   

She said when she was given the chance to do extracurricular activities for school or church, the people there were the positive sphere of influence for her.  

“There were plenty of opportunities to help me flourish,” she said. “People should set up children for success and doing everything they can to do so because it keeps the child well-rounded.”  

She wants children to experience things she and other children couldn’t experience. 

Her School Experience 

As a young child, Amber said school was hard for her because of the abuse. While she did excel in academics, it still affected her.  

At the time, she said she wanted to tell her friends, but she didn’t know how it would affect her or her sister.  

She knew her friends may not be able to help and she was aware that her friends’ parents were not able to take in her and her sister.  

There were times when Amber and her sister could not attend a birthday party or meet friends in the park. 

Amber said she also felt the difference in cultures because she was a young Black girl who attended a predominantly white school, she felt her white counterparts may not have understood her home life.  

“What’s the point of saying anything at that point?” she said.  

She wishes she did, especially when she was 9 years old.  

She finally spoke up about the abuse when she was in high school. Her boyfriend at the time — now her husband — encouraged her to do so.  

She said it was reassuring to have guidance counselors and teachers who always provided an opportunity for her to have the proverbial shoulder for comfort.  

While she didn’t tell them about the abuse, she told them about other things she had to deal with.  

Higher Learning  

When Amber was a sophomore in high school, she was eligible to skip junior year and become a senior. And she did.

One of her friends inquired one day if she had filled out college applications.  

She said she didn’t know she had to fill them out, nor was she knowledgeable about Free Application for Federal Student Aid. She had to do it all by herself.  

She managed to get it done at the last minute for a local community college, but when she started, she was not taking the classes that were needed to obtain a degree.

She did not finish. 

She knows when her children get a little older, she can obtain her bachelor’s or master’s degree.  

Save the Children Action Network — Columbia, South Carolina 

As Amber got older, she found her calling — advocating for children.

“I advocate for children because we all used to be children,” Amber said. “I was that child (who) needed protection. I always told myself I’d do something to help others like me.”  

Amber volunteers with SCAN. 

She said SCAN works to push for children’s education and everything that involves giving children a voice when it comes to their education. 

“I joined because I didn’t have any help with my education as a child,” she said. “I felt like if I had parents who went above and beyond for me to succeed, I would have a master’s degree by now.” 

This article was edited by Catrina Francis.