AMESBURY — Starting when she was 6 years old, Regina Serverius, like many other children in the care of the Department of Children and Families, spent her childhood bouncing in and out of foster homes across the Merrimack Valley.
Now raising a family of her own, Serverius, 26, continues to share her experiences in the foster care system with those in similar situations. After drifting in and out of homes and giving birth as a teenager, she finally was able to finish school and build her career helping people navigate the challenges life throws their way.
Serverius credits her success to the Healthy Families program in Massachusetts, which is overseen by the Children’s Trust. Healthy Families, which served 46 percent of newly eligible families in the state in 2018, helps young parents learn to cope with the difficulties of parenting through in-home visits and supportive services. The organization also helps at-risk parents, like Serverius, become successful parents, keeping children out of foster care and stopping the cycle of child abuse and neglect.
Serverius’s parents were deemed unfit when she was 6 years old — her father being an alcoholic and her mother and older sister dealing with their own issues. She was separated from her 3-year-old brother. After spending three years in her first foster home in Lawrence, Serverius spent time in a handful of different living situations, including other foster and group homes. Some of them didn’t speak much English, which Serverius said was challenging.
“You don’t have any control because you’re just a kid and sometimes they’ll just say ‘oh well something happened,’ because at the first one I didn’t really understand what was going on,” Serverius said. “They just picked me up and said you have to move and you’re sitting there in this random person’s house like I don’t know anyone.”
At 10 years old, Serverius moved in with her younger brother’s foster home for a year. After it didn’t work out, she visited a pre-adoptive home in Danvers before moving to an adoptive home at age 12.
Two years later, Serverius was “unadopted” by her new mother and was dropped off at a courthouse with her belongings.
Soon after, she moved to an all-girls group home before transitioning to a Wilmington foster home for a year at 13. From there, she spent time in a respite care home, which Serverius said is where foster families drop off their children when they “need a break.” This is where Serverius met her “forever family,” although she didn’t realize it at the time.
After moving in with that family, Serverius worked in the family pizza shop in Groveland, graduated from Tewksbury High School and was dating her sixth-grade sweetheart. After joining a program with NFI Massachusetts, a nonprofit that works with foster children, she became eligible for the Transition Into Living program at 18.
“They supplied me with an apartment and stuff and I found out I was pregnant and moved out the same summer,” said Serverius, who added this is when she became connected with Healthy Families. That program changed her life, gave her access to resources for teen moms and connected her with peer support with other girls in similar situations, she said.
“I was so nervous and scared,” she admitted. “I didn’t have parents, so how was I going to be a parent?”
She ended up graduating from Northern Essex Community College with certification as a healthcare technician. She worked while raising her children Jayden, 7, and Julian, 3. Today, she gives speeches at the Statehouse for Healthy Families and even traveled to be part of a panel in Washington, D.C., in 2015. After working as a peer specialist for children at NFI, she transitioned to working with adults for the Vinfen Corporation, helping people in their recovery and welcoming them back to the community.
“It was great being able to share my story in front of all these people that really wanted to listen and learn and hear your experience,” she said.
Serverius is hoping to finalize an adult adoption with her forever family, whom she is still close with. In case anything were to happen to her, Serverius said she would want her children to have proper caregivers, rather than grow up the way she did.
“I want to make sure my kids have everything I didn’t have,” she said.
To learn more about Healthy Families, visit http://healthyfamiliesma.org/
To learn more about Children’s Trust, visit https://childrenstrustma.org/
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.
Editor's note: This story corrects the spelling of the last name of Regina Serverius, which was incorrect in an earlier version.