September 27, 2017
“Someday, if I make it through this, I will be able to help people in a similar circumstance so they don’t feel alone.” This is what Lydia Spencer told herself daily while growing up in an unstable household. Lydia’s father suffered from opioid addiction and mental health issues, which led to abuse and constant chaos in her home. She needed an advocate — but never got one.
As Lydia got older, things at home escalated more out of control, yet nobody took a stand for her. “People were seeing red flags and they chose not to act,” she says of that difficult time. During high school, Lydia’s parents separated and then her father passed away.
Lydia was left to deal with a large amount of grief and anxiety after these events. During her first few years in college, she began to realize that someone could have made a difference in her life. “It would have changed my life to have someone intervene; everything could have been better and my entire family could have been helped as a whole,” she says. Lydia decided to become the advocate that she never had.
While in college, she majored in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. Her first internship included working with high schoolers recovering from addiction. “As I listened to them tell their stories, there were consistent themes: family had been dysfunctional, parents dealt with drug addiction, the child was neglected. I wondered, what can I do to prevent that from happening and spiraling into this teenager with all these mental health and addiction problems?”
The answer to her question: work with children and help strengthen the entire family from the beginning. “A lot of people can sympathize or give empathy to these kids, but I can really connect with them because I truly understand where they are and what is happening to them,” she says.
Lydia now works as a Foster Care Case Manager at the Children’s Bureau, a United Way of Central Indiana partner agency. She serves as a support system, advocate and champion for local foster children who need someone to stand up for them. And because of Lydia’s own experiences, she can understand and relate to them in ways many cannot.
“A lot of these kids can’t sit still and always have to be doing something. From my own experiences, I know a lot of the time it is because they want to fill that void so they don’t remember what has happened in the past,” Lydia says.
Every day, Lydia strives to give these children what they are missing in their life. From attending doctor appointments and going to court, to simply treating them with respect and kindness, Lydia knows she is making a significant difference in their lives. “You can have such a meaningful impact on these children; as an adult they will look back and say these people helped me manage and cope with the situation in ways I could not have without them.”
Lydia aspires to give the children receiving help from the Children’s Bureau a glimmer of hope that she never had. “When you are in the middle of all this chaos, it feels like it will be that way forever and there is no change. I want them to know that there is a life beyond all that pain and being caught up in other people’s madness,” she shares.
The darkness of Lydia’s past helped her discover a bright future. She hopes to inspire others in similar situations to find the positive and use their experiences to help others.