What happens when you can’t go back home?
Conflicts with parents and family can drive teens to emancipation or other places to find their inde
Published: Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 08:06
When a house is no longer a home, some teens turn to emancipation, a legal separation from parents that leads to independence.
Others who have no means of independent support look for housing alternatives with family or friends.
According to the National Data Archive for Child Abuse and Neglect, of the 28,959 children emancipated from foster care in 2007, 1,698 were under the age of 18.
Minnie Jo Gauthier, 34, chose to be emancipated after 16 years of being reared by an alcoholic and schizophrenic mother who owned a bar. She also lived with her brother who was eight years older than her.
A court's decision to grant emancipation is based primarily on whether teens can support themselves financially. Because their jobs are generally low-income, emancipation is rarely granted.
Gauthier's brother had been continuously beating and raping her since she was 11 years old. Her brother's father shot and killed himself when she was 14 because he feared she would tell someone about how he, too, had raped her.
"Everything was always my fault," Gauthier said.
At the age of 14, she was sent to a state mental hospital after committing assault and attempting to murder her mother's boyfriend to defend her mom from his constant beatings.
After she was released, she moved to Austin, but was forced to return and help her mother after her grandmother died. Then she started living on her own in an apartment where she became pregnant at the age of 16.
It was because of the baby that she decided to become emancipated from her mom.
She had to get a job under the table and work to support herself and her child. Because of the death of her brother's father, she was to receive several Social Security checks, but could not sign for them and her mother took them instead.
She found that she could not enroll in the school of her choice, Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, get a real job or sign for anything on her own unless she was legally an adult. To do so, she would have to be an independent legal adult.
"Emancipation gave me the freedom I desperately needed," Gauthier said, noting that it also was necessary because at her age, "no one ever believed me."
Gauthier sought help from a child advocacy lawyer who "knew I was running from something," she said.
When it came time for the hearing, she proved to the judge that she could support herself financially because she was working under the table in San Antonio and attending Brackenridge High School. She was granted emancipation in 1992.
"The courts will work for you in order to help you," she said.
She is now the mother of three children, a 17-year-old high school senior, a 13-year-old seventh grader and an 8-year-old third grader, all of whom she is extremely proud.
Some teens run away simply because they can't get along with parents.
Samantha Jo Salinas, 17, said she left her San Antonio home and family when she was 15 because they "couldn't stand to be in the same room together."
As a unit, Salinas' family made the decision that she would go to Houston for a while to stay with family.
She stayed in Houston for about five months, until she realized the distance from home was simply unbearable.
"Why am I this far? Why does it have to be this bad?" she kept asking herself.
Eventually, she moved back.
Things had not improved much with her mother, so she moved in with another family friend that lived in the same apartment complex.
That's when she began to get into some trouble.
"I got too spoiled and did whatever [I wanted]," she said. "I was hanging out with the wrong people."
She dropped out of Marshall High School her sophomore year because she claims that no one really cared if she went to school or not. Throughout these constant conflicts with mom, school and bad influences, emancipation did cross her mind, but she never followed through with it because she did not believe she would be able to support herself.
"I only did it out of fun," she said, noting that moving away gave her (mom and her) "the space we needed to see what we needed to work on" in their relationship.
Salinas eventually moved back with her parents and they now enjoy a healthy family relationship.
"I tell my mom things because I want to now, not because she makes me tell her," she said. She no longer sees old friends and now works as a hostess at Las Palapas restaurant on Interstate Highway 10.
"As bad as my relationship was with my parents," she said, "they do want the best for you."
Unfortunately, Gauthier did not encounter the same outcome. She admits she still holds resentment toward her mother, even after having moved back from Austin to San Antonio to care for her.
"She was the only family I had," she said.
Gauthier is now unemployed and on the verge of losing her home because of her inability to find employment.
She said she wishes to be a case manager for the elderly. To do that takes compassion, but compassion is a trait she lacks because of her hard past.
Gauthier said she left her husband for fear of intimacy, and she often is severely depressed.
But she knows her importance to her children.
"I think they look up to me because they know I struggle," she said.