Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series on “20-somethings” in Milwaukee.
Amanda Salas knows quite a bit about foster care. At age 5, the Las Vegas native moved to Milwaukee to live with relatives after leaving an abusive household. That lasted for two years. She then ended up under the state’s care, in group homes and with foster families.
Despite attending seven different high schools, Salas graduated from Casimir Pulaski High School in 2013. Now 21, she plans to graduate May 13 from Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) with an associate degree in criminal justice.
“I’ve had a lot of stuff happen to me – and I’m still kicking,” she said.
Aiming to give back, Salas volunteers often with Kids Matter, a nonprofit that helps foster children navigate the system and monitors their living situations through the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. When Salas was 16, a judge appointed a CASA volunteer from Kids Matter to her case; the adult helped her learn to trust people again and gain independent living skills.
Kids Matter leaders said Salas is adept at relaying her experiences to help show what foster youth go through. Executive Director Susan Conwell said Salas offers potential solutions for foster care children without attaching any stereotypical labels. Lance Jones, the organization’s program manager, praised Salas as “willing to speak to government leaders and others, to provide them with a better understanding of the challenges, aspirations and strengths of youth in foster care.”
In April 2014, the Wisconsin legislature sought testimony from young people with adoption experiences. Salas went before state lawmakers, sharing how frustrating it was for her to never be asked if she wanted to be in the system — it just happened.
“No one is really going to look at the issue of [foster care] if someone doesn’t bring it up,” she said. “There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed. I will advocate for children in foster care for as long as I possibly can.”
Jones is pleased with Salas’ career choice — becoming a Milwaukee police officer.
“She will bring an understanding and empathy for foster youth to law enforcement that few will be able to top,” he said.
For her part, Salas wants to change lives for the better.
“I want to be the person who responds to the child who used to be me,” she said.