Justin Martinez: Always be open, honest, authentic, and proud to stand in your truth

October 1, 2023

“I don't regret my past. I'm thankful for it and that's not all of who I am,” says Justin Martinez, a California native, born and raised in Sacramento. One night when Justin was 15, his mom had to take him and his brothers and sister to a WEAVE safe house after their neighbors called the cops on his father. 36 hours later, the Child Protective Services (CPS) placed all four children into foster care in a house two blocks away from their home for one year. This experience changed Justin’s life and propelled him on his long journey to become a social worker. It took him 15 years—ten years to graduate from community college, two years to obtain a bachelor’s, and three more years to complete his master’s degree. Statistics were against him—less than 4% of current and former foster youth college students graduate from college. But Justin prevailed and felt inspired to be a beacon of hope for other foster youths to become college graduates themselves.

Justin is grateful to have the support system from the Guardian Scholars Program (GSP) at San Francisco State University during this journey. “They were my backbone when I needed support navigating the California State University system,” Justin says. “They gave me experiences that I could never repay because they were invaluable. It was like having a family that wasn't my biological family. The people at GSP only wanted to see you succeed. And when you surround yourself with people who only want you to succeed, nothing is impossible.” They encouraged Justin to go to graduate school, and supported him throughout the application process. 

Another person who wanted Justin to succeed was Bailey, his partner of four years. With her unconditional support, commitment and sacrifice, Justin was able to achieve his goals—obtaining his Master of Social Work (MSW) from San Francisco State University and creating a better life for himself and for the people around him.

During his first-year internship as a foster youth service intern pursuing his Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Credential, Justin created “Are You Man Enough?” a young men’s support group, and coached baseball at John O'Connell High School. That experience was the biggest highlight for him during graduate school. Justin’s father was his coach for baseball, football, and boxing growing up. And during high school when Justin was going through hard times, his coaches were there to give him support and guidance. “For me to give that back to a team of young men was remarkable for me and I’m sure for my players as well,” Justin says. 

During his second year, Justin interned at the Alameda County Children and Family Services. He managed emergency response referrals involving child abuse and neglect allegations. He engaged with children, youth, and families at schools, transitional living facilities, homes, and local parks to address the allegations brought to the Agency’s attention. While interviewing parents Justin utilized motivational interviewing techniques to empower his clients to advocate for themselves and identify what support they needed to improve their situation. 

Through these internships Justin gained invaluable experience in the field of education and child welfare. He also gained a lot of empathy for children and families struggling within the systems that inadequately served them. His clients have been his biggest source of inspiration. They have taught him that resilience and dedication can support you in accomplishing any goals you choose to achieve. His clients also reminded him to take care of himself. “They have also affirmed me that I am right where I need to be,” Justin says. “Social Work is not an easy line of work. Heart work is hard work! I will keep my compassion and empathy at the forefront of my approach every day I work to advocate for children and families.” 

Having learned more about his parents’ experiences during childhood and exploring how multi-generational trauma can affect families, Justin wrote his senior thesis on fatherhood engagement in child welfare. His research reaffirmed his belief that fathers play a huge role in the success of their families from top to bottom. A family is never truly complete unless a father chooses to take on the responsibility of being present and engaged in his family’s life. Fathers need a lot of support when their children are taken away from them. “Sadly, fathers are not prioritized and supported as much as mothers in the child welfare system,” Justin says. “It can be beneficial to fathers to have more support groups to help them navigate the child welfare system and build community with other fathers who face similar challenges as they do.” 

Family is important to Justin, and he works hard to keep his family together and break the cycle of historical trauma. He has good and bad memories from childhood, and shares the trauma of his past but never blames or shames his parents in any way. Justin loves and forgives his parents for the pain that he experienced as consequences of their choices. He is grateful for all that his parents have done for him and his siblings growing up. He is also proud of his siblings and their accomplishments. His brothers are entrepreneurs—Jordon cuts hair and Jarred runs a moving business, and Jasmine, his only sister, is a certified nurse. Justin is currently repairing his relationship with his father, Don, and Justin’s mother and best friend, Samantha, always tells Justin, "We are the Martinez—we adapt; we overcome; and we move on because we have great love." 

Justin recently accepted a job at Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children Services working as an emergency response child welfare worker. He is currently accumulating his clinical hours to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), and can see himself making his way back to schools to inform, inspire and influence young people by assisting them with implementing healthy coping mechanisms to help manage their mental health. 

Justin keeps his body physically healthy through hot yoga and Pilates, and enjoys a cold plunge in the Pacific Ocean to jump start his system and relieve stress. He says, “Family time and quality time with loved ones is the most important self-care to me.” 

Justin has a few tips for Title IV-E Program students: “Do your best to have one thing that you do for yourself each week. This work is not easy, so have grace with yourself throughout the process. Always remember that more is possible when you surround yourself with those who want to see you succeed. Enjoy the journey because it goes by really fast. And always be open, honest, authentic, and proud to stand in your truth.”

Justin Martinez

Justin Martinez, MSW
Emergency Response Child Welfare Worker
Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children Services
Title IV-E Graduate 2023