UK Social Work Student Raven Whitaker-Smith Highlights Her Journey for National Adoption Month

During National Adoption Month, Raven Whitaker-Smith shared her adoption journey and the impact that foster care has had on her life.
Raven Whitaker-Smith

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This article was originally shared by the DCCH Center for Children and Families Facebook page.

During National Adoption Month, Raven Whitaker-Smith, a junior in the College of Social Work, shared her adoption journey and the impact that foster care has had on her life.

“My name is Raven. I am a junior at the University of Kentucky and I am studying to be a social worker. If you were to observe me from the outside looking in, you would think I had the perfect life. I have two loving parents, three family dogs, all Boston Terriers. I live off campus with two of my friends and have two cats who live with me in Lexington. However, once upon a time not too long ago, my life looked completely different.

The first 11 years of my life were very traumatic. Not every day was bad, but most days were bad. My biological parents were just kids when they had me and my siblings. They were drug addicts, and my home life was a very dark place. I was not safe, I did not feel love, I was neglected and abused. Being the oldest of three siblings, I often got the brunt of the trauma. I tried my best to shield my siblings from the daily abuse and neglect. I was a child though, so I could only do so much.

When I was 11, the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) finally stepped in and removed us from that terrible environment. Then, I thought that was the worst thing in the world to happen, but it turned out to be my saving grace. I was separated from my siblings because the trauma I faced made it impossible to find a placement for me with them. I stay connected with them.

If you would have told 11-year-old me that I would be a junior in college, she would have laughed you off the planet. Being in foster care completely changed my life. I was placed in Holly Hill Residential Home as an 11-year-old. I attended a Campbell County school. That would place me on a path to meeting the man who would become my dad. I found myself in the principal’s office one day after starting a food fight in the cafeteria. The principal asked me if I would start a food fight if I were out to dinner with my family. When I blurted out that I did not have a family, he said he felt like a complete jerk. I was a foster kid living at Holly Hill. That conversation led him to have a conversation with his wife and the rest is history. I was adopted by them, and that principal is now my dad. Life can be a funny thing sometimes. It’s hard not to believe in fate when you stand back and look at all of life’s little coincidences.

He and my mom went through training and became certified to be foster parents through DCCH Center with the intention to foster me. They could not have kids of their own and something I said that day led them to know in their hearts that I was what their family needed. My mom says she always questioned why she could not have kids until the day she met me. I had never been wanted by anyone in my life. I was a hopeless child who had been discarded by every adult in my life. I did not make life easy on them and sometimes I still don’t. They definitely had to earn my trust and it would take years for them to earn it.

Being fostered by a great set of parents did not erase my trauma, but they provided me with an atmosphere where I learned how to work through it, believe in myself, and gave hope to a hopeless kid.

DCCH Center was the perfect foster agency for me. My case worker, Mel, felt like an older sister and not a social worker. She was young and fun. She would braid my hair, take me for coffee, jump on my trampoline with me and just listen. DCCH matched me up with the perfect therapist. I still see her although now via Zoom since I am in Lexington most of the time. They were there the first day my DCBS social worker introduced me to the Smiths as my foster family and they were there when I was adopted on November 3, 2017. The therapeutic atmosphere that DCCH provided me was what I needed to learn to trust my parents and heal from the trauma I experienced. They are still there for me today even though I have been adopted for almost 6 years. I am doing my class volunteer hours with them and will do my professional internship with them my senior year. I truly feel DCCH is a part of my family and played a significant role in my story.

I love telling people that I was adopted. Not many people get to say their parents chose them. If anyone reading this is thinking about fostering or adopting a child, I urge you to take a chance and try it. I was 12 when I was placed with my parents. Foster care saved my life and because of that, it has inspired me to be a social worker. There are so many kids out there that are just like me when I was 11 who need to be loved, cared for, and given hope.”

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For 85 years, the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) has been a leader in social work education. As a college, we promote community and individual well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital community engagement. We are committed to the people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world. Like the University, CoSW is an organization that cultivates a diverse academic community characterized by interpersonal fairness and social justice. We are fiercely committed to developing outstanding social work professionals — leaders who will serve individuals, families, and communities through innovative and effective practices that are guided by cultural competency, systematic ethical analysis, and a keen and pragmatic understanding of the human condition.