Mark’s* mother abused drugs when she was pregnant, and he was born with drugs in his system. As a child, his mother’s drug and alcohol addictions continued, and she suffered from significant mental health issues. She was arrested several times, incarcerated, then spent time on parole. Mark’s father was absent from his life.

Mark and his older sister did the best they could, staying with their aunt when their mother was in jail, or when their mother was out of jail and they had no food to eat. When Mark’s mother gave birth to a third child, both she and the baby again tested positive for drugs. As a result, all three children were removed from their mother’s care. Mark was eleven years old.

Mark settled into a more stable life in the care of his aunt and maternal grandfather. Still, those difficult years had taken a toll in many ways. One way was that Mark had fallen behind in school. He did not like talking to his classmates about being in foster care, and he became increasingly withdrawn and shy. KidsVoice worked with Mark’s aunt and advocated to enforce Mark’s educational rights to receive the services he would need to catch up in school, including out of school tutoring in addition to his in-school supports.  Even as Mark began to make strides toward feeling at home in his new life, and began to get back on track in school, his mother’s addiction worsened. She died of an overdose within two years of her children entering kinship care (meaning they were living with a relative long-term).

There were more losses to come. Mark’s father refused to be involved in his life, so Mark looked to his grandfather as a male role model. The two grew very close. When Mark’s grandfather died of an illness a few years later, Mark lost a pivotal figure in his life. Around the same time, Mark’s younger sister (then ten years old), who had a different father, was placed back in her father’s care. After spending time in prison, her father had worked hard to make a stable life for himself. Mark was happy for his sister, but it was difficult to see her leave. Mark wasn’t able to visit her often.

Through all of this, Mark persevered and graduated from high school. KidsVoice then helped him obtain the post-secondary educational benefits, including funding and supports, he was entitled to. He was able to enroll in courses at the Community College of Allegheny County toward a certification program for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC). Mark recently received his certification. KidsVoice connected him with a company that hired him earlier this year. He now has a job with potential for real wage growth, in a career that could help Mark support a family of his own.

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