Jaylyn, 16, Says Growing Up Wasn’t Easy. Then She Got an Advocate and Family Stability.

    Jaylyn. 16, spent years in the child welfare system. A year ago, Shonda adopted her.

    Shonda vividly remembers when she met Jaylyn. 

     “Jaylyn was one of four girls my mom was fostering. I would go to the house to help them with their homework. I connected with all of them, but Jaylyn was different,” she said 

    Jaylyn, 16, spent most of her childhood in the child welfare system.

    Jaylyn was 12 and a participant in Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., paired with Advocate Milly Laboy-Samford. Partnering with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems in 32 states and the District of Columbia, YAP hires and trains neighborhood-based Advocates and mobile behavioral health specialists to provide community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration and congregate placement.

    Jaylyn with Milly, her YAP Advocate

     Featured with Milly in a new YAP public service ad (PSA), Jaylyn speaks about her childhood. “I experienced trauma. I acted out, and I made some mistakes. But I’m not a mistake.” 

    Shonda with Jaylyn, whom she adopted a year ago

     “It was one of those things; all she needed was love and someone to be there and be real with her,” Shonda said. “I’d go over there to my mom’s house every day and give her positive reinforcement for the little changes I was seeing in her.”

    Jaylyn — selfie with Mom

     Mother to two girls – young adults at the time — Shonda had been considering adopting a boy. But after meeting Jaylyn, she changed her mind. If Jaylyn was up for adoption, she wanted to be her mom.

    Milly with Jaylyn during PSA filming

    Shonda said Milly was supportive throughout the adoption process. She spent time with Jaylyn and connected both of them with tools to make the transition as smooth as possible. This was particularly important because the adoption took place during the pandemic. 

    “The actual adoption happened in 2021 and it was virtual,” Shonda said, adding, “also during COVID, YAP lost state funding for the program and Milly couldn’t do as much as she did in the beginning. We were very fortunate that she still stayed in touch and came over.” 

    Jaylyn participates in a junior firefighters program in her community

    Shonda, who is African American and lives in a diverse community in Southern New Jersey, said she appreciated that because Milly and Jaylyn share Puerto Rican ancestry, their connection came with extra benefits. During their time together, Milly shared recipes with Jaylyn, along with other cultural traditions.

     “Jaylyn has also stayed connected to cousins and other [biological] family members; and I have a good relationship with her father,” Shonda said.

    Jaylyn with Mom at middle school graduation

     Less than a year after the adoption, Shonda says Jaylyn is feeling more confident and it’s showing as she thrives at home, in her community and at school. This is something Milly validates in the PSA saying, “She’s a good student and a great kid.” 

    Learn more about YAP at www.yapinc.org and follow the organization on Twitter @yapinc.