Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Angel Jackson and I’m 26 years old. I work with a non-profit organization called the Harris County Youth Collective. I went into the foster care system when I was 14 years old and I aged out of care at 18 years old. My experience in the system wasn’t as brutal as others. I moved around to 7 or 8 different placements, but I never left Texas so I was fortunate for that. I was never physically abused. I was a tough cookie.
What is your experience with teen pregnancy or sex education in Texas?
I got pregnant at 21 so I was not pregnant as a teen, but I’ve been around many teens who were. I work with the Collaborative for Youth in Care to get more youth involved in the issues of teen pregnancy and contraception.
I was recruited to work at the Harris County Youth Collective by one of our project managers. The Harris County Youth Collective (HCYC) connects organizations, youth, families, and advocates to ensure Dual Status Youth (10 – 17-year-olds who are in both the child protective and juvenile justice systems) in Harris County are supported, safe and have the opportunity to thrive. At first, I was a part of a Youth Advisory Board where I had the chance to bring my lived experience in foster care to the table to help improve policies within the foster care system. HCYC realized that the initiatives we were pushing were important because we had lived experience to know first hand the kind of support that kids in care needed. Usually, the people who have seats at the table and who are making big decisions about youth don’t have lived experience to know what needs to be changed. We advocate for youth all around Texas.
What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?
I’d want them to know that they aren’t alone and that they’re still worthy. Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, but God’s timing is always divine. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and they can still be prosperous and successful and live a nice life, no matter what obstacles they might be going through now. You will get older and wiser and learn from your mistakes. There are resources and individuals who are out there who want to help. Sometimes you just have to admit that you need help. Have faith! I know it may seem like the situation you’re in is horrible, but sometimes (being in a foster home) was a better environment than being with my mother.
What would you want to tell your younger self (before you became pregnant, or experienced sex and relationships?)
I would say, don’t let anyone force you to do something you’re not comfortable with. There is no rush to be ready to have sex. I wish my foster parents had had that conversation with me. I wish they had given me information on birth control and the things that were happening to my body. When you’re in a foster home, you don’t have those conversations. You learn from experience and mistakes. I wish someone had told me, “there’s nothing wrong if you don’t want to have sex, but if you do, here’s how to do it safely.” I wish I had been more prepared.
I would have wanted to know about all the resources that were there for me when I was pregnant. I would have liked to know that my child wouldn’t be taken away from me if I had gotten pregnant in care. I wanted to know about resources that could have helped me grow as a mother. There aren’t enough resources readily available for youth.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
I wish I had known about Planned Parenthood! They offer birth control, condoms, and STI testing. I think the main thing is being aware of all of your options and knowing that you can have private conversations with your OB/GYN. I found out a lot of things through friends after being in foster care.
I started going to an OB/GYN when I was 18 years old because I had a friend who was older than me who told me about well-woman checks. Before I went, I would google things and look at YouTube videos. This was especially confusing when I decided to get birth control. I had my son at 21 so I wasn’t a teen, but I was still young. I mostly learned through my friends, asking questions, and through my aunt. When you’re in foster care, you go to the doctor but you don’t feel comfortable having sensitive conversations in front of your foster parent if they stay in the room.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were pregnant/a teen working through these decisions?
My aunt! She taught me a lot about puberty. When I entered foster care at 14 years old, I had already started my period. This is a monumental moment for a teenager. I had to learn about pads and tampons, how to put them on, how to dispose of them, and how to stay clean. Things like this are essential to feeling comfortable and not being embarrassed during this transitional time. This was so important to me. A lot of things that my aunt taught me helped me transition into being a young woman and showed me how to take care of myself.
What do you wish you had, what would have been helpful, or what support do you think was missing that would have been most helpful to you?
I think that a conversation about sex, self-care, contraception, and how to decide if you’re ready to have sex was missing for me. I wish that someone had discussed the risks of having sex and getting pregnant with me. Sex should not be something you have to do to get someone to like you. People should not assume that teens and young adults know about sex or healthy relationships. A lot of people haven’t had these conversations before. The best way to find out is to ask.