Christian is a Force
At 16 years of age, Christian finished a tennis match and in front of his coach, was met by a DCF worker who placed him into foster care.
"I wanted to go home," Christian recalls. "Wanted to feel normal."
Being separated from his family was difficult as Christian navigated amongst multiple homes including those of a relative.
"Hard", "difficult" and "defeating" are words he uses to describe his emotions during this impressionable time in his life which saw among other negative consequences, his grade point average dropping from a 3.78 to a 2.71 between freshmen and sophomore year.
"I felt different," he remembers.
Christian was in fact not like those around him- but in much more positive ways than perhaps he even realized.
Christian began advocating for himself, a skill he would refine over the years that has already put him in a position to influence systems and change the experiences of other youth in care.
While in placement, Christian had a strong connection with Attorney Michael Culkin whom he credits for listening to him and advocating for what he wanted. "Your attorney is a major resource," Christian stated.
As a result of this relationship, and the work of the Department, Christian was able to return home after almost a year- with the understanding and agreement of all parties that he could come back into the system if it was in his best interests.
Due to circumstances well beyond his control, Christian re-entered care eight days prior to his 18th birthday - he has never looked back since.
Christian is a transitional aged youth (TAY) currently being supported by the Department of Children and Families as he progresses through post-secondary education while living in New York City.
Christian is a force.
As a sophomore at Fordham University, he is studying social work with the aspirational goal of obtaining a master's degree in social work and then going to law school if finances are in order.
Christian developed a passion to be a public defender while working for three years as an intern in Connecticut's public defender system and for a short period of time with the New York Police Department. He has visions to work with the "disadvantaged community" and devoting his life to public service.
"That is where I can be most impactful," Christian stated.
"Sometimes, that person is the only person in your corner," Christian explained as he described the role an Attorney may play and the critical relationship they establish as they "connect" to a client.
On a part-time basis, Christian works as an advocate for youth involved in the Planning and Placement Team (PPT) process at Long Island City High School in New York. He assists in a variety of ways which includes imparting his insights on appeals to receive additional financial aid.
He gained this knowledge as a senior in high school when his Guidance Counselor assisted him in appealing for the financial aid package he was awarded at Fordham. The appeal was successful, and he now attends the University tuition free.
Christian is of the firm belief that youth need more resources to attend post-secondary programs. "They need to enter the field of education on a level playing field," he stated.
On weekends, he devotes his time outreaching to the homeless population spread across the Manhattan borough under the direction of a private agency.
"I like to be busy," he stated.
In October, Christian applied for a position as a youth counselor at a juvenile justice facility. "It was the worst interview of my life," he recalls. However, after an hour interview he was given the business card of a child welfare staff member who offered him a job upon graduation with the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) in New York City!
Christian Co-Chairs the Region 2 Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and co-facilitated the Commissioner's Quarterly Statewide YAB when Region 2 hosted the meeting in February 2023. The YAB is a statewide group of youth supported by the Department who meet and advocate to the Commissioner about changes in statute or policy which they believe will enhance the experiences of youth in care.
He is leading his peers to push forward a bill which would extend tuition assistance for youth in care up to the age of 26 years. "Sometimes you need more time," Christian explained to finish your education especially if early life experiences presented challenges.
Ensuring that youth have a voice where visitation occurs with family members is another piece of their work as is setting standards for how youth transition from one placement to the next.
Why is he so successful?
Christian attributes much of his strength and resilience to what he learned during therapy beginning at eight years of age. "I was able to develop a tool set to help me navigate challenges," he explained. He also learned how to be persistent. "If one key does not work, there are nine other ones on the chain."
This tenacity and drive carry over to his love of tennis. Christian began playing at a young age with the Department even paying for lessons. As a senior in high school, he received all-state honors in doubles.
"I am very competitive," he explained after he came back from a trip to Arizona with the Fordham club tennis team. In singles matches, he beat a player from Oregon State and played one of the "best matches of my career" while losing to a much higher seeded player from the University of California.
What is his message for youth currently involved with DCF? What does he see in his peers?
"It is intimidating to work with a bureaucracy," Christian stated. "Use your voice and advocate for yourself."
"Their voice is power. They don't need to roll with the punches."
Christian is also clear that given their early childhood experiences, youth may resist interventions by the Department. It can be difficult for youth in care to be successful and many have developed unique coping mechanisms. "The survival skills we develop in the system, help us outside of the system," Christian explained.
"I was a kid who did not want to come into the system. DCF is giving me a billion times more of an opportunity than my family could," he clearly articulated.
Congratulations Christian for all you have accomplished in such a short time!