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The Frame

Rebuilding Family After Foster Care

Bad timing and a stint in juvenile detention prevented Matthew and Terrick from accessing the foster care resources offered to their youngest brother, Joseph.

An old picture of three boys and their mother smiling sits inside a frame with words about family and love.
A framed family photo shows brothers Matthew Ybarra, Joseph Bakhit and Terrick Bakhit with their mother, Michele Bakhit.

Terrick Bakhit’s loyalty to his brothers Matthew and Joseph is tattooed across his chest: “MTJ,” each letter representing the brothers’ initials.

As kids, they ran away from home together: Their mother was addicted to drugs and their grandmother beat them with a belt. The boys tried to stick together, but instead landed in California’s sprawling foster care system, growing up apart.

Terrick Bakhit, a young Black and Mexican man wearing a blue buttoned shirt, smiles in a parking lot while talking on the phone with his girlfriend.

Terrick Bakhit talks on the phone with his girlfriend in 2014. View Max Whittaker’s photographs of the brothers in 2014 in “Surviving Foster Care: 2 Brothers, 2 Different Paths”

While Matthew and Terrick spent time incarcerated, Joseph was able to use extended foster care benefits to go to college. Their story was the focus of a 2014 article in The Imprint (formerly known as The Chronicle of Social Change), which documented how their unequal access to foster care resources impacted their lives.

The brothers’ story inspired the creation of a state bill that would have allowed foster youth who entered the juvenile justice system to retain their extended care benefits. Terrick and Joseph even spoke before the California Senate. But the bill never made it through the committee.

This article was published in partnership with The Imprint.

Nearly nine years later, The Marshall Project revisited the brothers and found them still trying to find their place in the world — and rebuilding their family in the process.

Joseph

Joseph excelled after high school, in part, because of his access to housing, financial aid and case management provided by federal law and the state statute that extended foster care from ages 18 to 21. He attended UC Berkeley on a scholarship and received a monthly stipend only available to foster youth. Now 27, Joseph married his high school sweetheart Samantha, who went through foster care herself, and lives with her and their two kids in Folsom. Their 4-year-old son will sometimes video chat with his grandmother, Michele, who now lives in a southern California apartment with Terrick and Matthew, after years of being apart from them. Joseph is considering moving near them to pursue a career in ministry.

A family prays at a table before a meal at their home. Above their table are signs about love, family and home.
A man wearing a green polo shirt and jeans carries his 4-year-old son while holding a shopping cart in a grocery store.
A man wearing a green polo shirt and jeans laughs while hugging his daughter on a blue sectional sofa.
A man facing away from the camera holds two bags of groceries while a child descends an outdoor staircase leading down from the second-floor of an apartment complex.
A woman wearing dark-framed glasses and a pink and gray camouflage-style sweater holds her hand up to her mouth as she videochats with a laughing child.

Terrick

Terrick couldn’t take advantage of the extended benefits. His anger issues in foster care from the trauma of abuse eventually got him arrested at 17 for taking his group home van for a joyride. He spent his 18th birthday in juvenile detention, and because he didn’t have a foster care placement at the time, he was severed from the foster care system and the support it provided. Terrick left juvenile detention unemployed and homeless. Today, at 29, he works as a sauté chef at the San Diego Yacht Club and has two children, but does not have custody of them. Terrick still struggles with his anger issues, but said he’s “trying to learn to control it and just not let it get the best of me.”

A man with a mustache and goatee holds up his shirt to show a chest tattoo with the letters “MTJ.”
A man wearing a red durag and a white tank top sits on a couch while speaking with his mother, who’s sitting on a bed behind him.
A man with tattoos on his forearm and neck, wearing a red kitchen uniform, transports food on a plate.
A man with a red kitchen uniform wipes his head with a rag.
A man smokes in his car at night outside a yacht club.
A woman with a tissue to her face cries while being hugged by her son, a man with tattoos and a white tank top.

Matthew

Matthew, the eldest, who came up with their plan to run away years ago, eventually aged out of the foster system just months before a state law extending benefits until age 21 took effect. Without a safety net of financial and emotional support, he spiraled into drugs, experienced homelessness and spent time in and out of jail. Matthew, 31, had a stroke in 2021, paralyzing his left hand and weakening his legs. He now walks with a cane. Struggling to obtain disability payments, he spends his days at home with the family dog Eli, watching TV or playing video games with Terrick and other relatives.

A bearded man with closely cropped hair, a black shirt and tattoos sits at a kitchen island.
A man wearing a white and blue Nike shirt looks through old yearbooks.
A man with tattoos looks at a school photo of himself as a child, smiling and posing with a fishing pole.
A man wearing a white and blue Nike shirt relaxes on a bed with his relatives. He rests his left hand, which is paralyzed from a past stroke, on his stomach.
A man with a beard smiles while petting his dog, surrounded by his relatives.
Joseph Bakhit and his family pray before breakfast at their home in Folsom, Calif., in May. Joseph met his wife, Sam, while they were both in foster care in San Diego, and they have focused their life around family and the Christian faith.
Joseph comforts his 4-year-old son, who hurt himself while grocery shopping.
Joseph plays with his children while working from home as a senior procurement analyst.
Joseph carries groceries into his apartment while his son runs up and down a neighbor’s stairs in Folsom, Calif., in May.
Michele Bakhit videochats with her grandson, Joseph’s son, from her home in La Mesa.
Terrick Bakhit shows off his “MTJ” tattoo, which represents his and his brothers’ initials.
Terrick, left, and his mother Michele, discuss paying rent for their La Mesa, Calif. apartment in June. Michele’s bed is in the living room of the apartment, and Terrick is the only one in the household with a job.
Terrick works as a sauté chef at the San Diego Yacht Club.
Terrick waits for his girlfriend after a shift at the yacht club.
After work, Terrick shares a hug with his mother, Michele, who lives with him and his other brother, Matthew.
Matthew Ybarra, the eldest brother, at the apartment he shares with his brother, Terrick, and their mother, Michele.
Matthew looks over yearbooks and photo albums from his childhood.
Brothers Matthew and Terrick play video games with their relatives at their apartment in La Mesa.
“We want to be happy, and we don’t want to be in a negative situation anymore,” Matthew said, speaking of his family. “We’re gonna learn life together.”

Brian Rinker is a freelance writer and journalist with over a decade of experience covering health care and health policy, mental health, drug addiction, child welfare, juvenile justice, and startups and innovation.

Max Whittaker is a freelance photojournalist based in northern California, focusing on social and environmental issues in California and the larger American West.