By Libby Smith

DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Human Services is celebrating foster families this month. On Saturday, May 8th, in a virtual event, the agency honored five foster families from across the state. One of the honorees was Manuel Padilla, who himself has overcome some pretty difficult obstacles to become a foster parent.

“I grew up in foster care, and I just wanted to give foster kids an opportunity to live,” Padilla told CBS4.

Padilla lived in foster care from age 3 to 11, then he went into kinship care, he lived with his grandfather. At the age of 16 he emancipated himself from the system.

(credit CBS)

“I’m supposed to either be a drug addict, in prison, or jail, or probably dead, or maybe have committed suicide, any of those things, that is what my statistics were,” Padilla said.

The statistics for teens who leave foster care without some support system are dire, but Padilla overcame the odds. He graduated high school early, held down two jobs, and started college, until he faced another obstacle.

“I was open gay, came out … kicked out of everything basically, shunned away, even from my mother not accepting me,” Padilla told CBS4.

Now Padilla is determined to give LGBTQ+ teens a smoother path to adulthood.

“I remember I struggled at that age, between 16 and 22 years old. And nobody taught me what checkbooks were, finances were, credit was, or anything like that,” Padilla recalled.

(credit CBS)

In 2018, Padilla started by doing kinship care for as many as 11 of his family members, but now he’s got four foster care youth in his home, and he’s working on adopting two of them. Padilla said that he’s developing a timeline for teaching teens in foster care the skills they’ll need as adults, that he hopes one day other foster families will be able to use.

“If I can do anything to change one person’s life, that’s my goal,” he said.

Colorado currently has 2,443 certified foster and kinship families, but that is not nearly enough to serve the more than 4,000 children living in foster care.

LINK: Find Out About Becoming A Foster Parent in Colorado

Libby Smith