Tanya*’s upbringing in the Ukraine was difficult. Her family struggled to make ends meet. After her older brother ran away from home, Tanya’s father took to alcohol and became violent, often hitting Tanya with a shoe. Her mother supported the family as a prostitute. Tanya and her younger sister were bullied in school. Eventually, her mother left Tanya and her sister at a children’s shelter. Later the girls were transferred to an orphanage.
When she arrived in the U.S. at age 10 to be adopted, Tanya was angry and suicidal. She continued to wet the bed and hide in the closet. Her adoptive mother tried to help, but she too was caught in a cycle of maltreatment. “She said many hurtful things,” says Tanya. “When I spoke out, she hit me in the face.”
Yet in spite of the verbal and physical abuse, Tanya has some good memories of those years: holiday celebrations, good care when she was sick, plenty of food to eat and nice clothes to wear. Her adoptive mother took Tanya to 7 therapists to try to help her process her anger.
On her 16th birthday, Tanya chose to stay out late with friends. She arrived home to a confrontation with her adoptive mother which turned physical. When her mother hit her repetitively, Tanya couldn’t take it anymore. She defended herself and hit her mother back. Her mother called the police.
The System Failed Tanya
Although she acted in self-defense rather than as an offender, Tanya landed in the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (DYRS) for a time and soon afterwards in a group home. “I was living with criminals,” says Tanya. Terrified, she ran away.
When she was returned to the juvenile detention center, a foster family agreed to let her live with them. While with them, she became pregnant.
When Tanya turned 18, her probation was complete and she no longer qualified for foster care support. Her foster family agreed to let her stay with them for a little while longer, and ultimately it was her foster mother who connected Tanya with Healthy Babies Project.
Tanya came to HBP homeless, pregnant, and scared. Her adoptive mother retained custody of Tanya’s original citizenship documents. Without documents, Tanya could not get benefits. Without benefits, she had nowhere to live, no medical care, and no way to support herself and her baby.
Healthy Babies Project Offered Safe Haven
It took nearly 12 months and significant advocacy from staff and partners, but HBP worked with Tanya to secure her original citizenship and adoption documents and to ensure medical care so that she had a healthy baby. A fellow TPEP participant training as a doula, Nyla Roy, served as Tanya’s doula during labor and delivery.
Today, Tanya and her baby boy Jacob live at Perennial House. They have health care, a safe place to live, and documentation allowing them access to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Tanya is enrolled in school. Jacob will be cared for in a child development center center nearby while she is in class.
As a Teen Parent Empowerment Program participant, Tanya is learning parenting skills so she can break the cycle of abuse. She admits that one of her biggest obstacles is learning to manage her anger in healthy ways. “I came to HBP not knowing how to take care of my son. It was so overwhelming,” says Tanya. “The staff members are always willing to help. They remind me to calm down and not yell.”
Parenting coaching has made a big difference for her.
“I am going to get my GED and focus on finishing my education,” says Tanya. “I’ve got help now. And I want to build a good life for me and my son – and I have the chance.”
If you or a teen you know is pregnant and needs support, contact HBP to learn about our Teen Parent Empowerment Program.
*Name changed for confidentiality