Building the Strength to Speak Up

By Yaya

At age 9, I entered a moment in my life that would Yaya-largechange my future. I waved goodbye to the woman that gave birth to me. I was in a police car, on my way to foster care. At that moment, I felt liberated because I would no longer endure the pain of watching my mom suffer down a path of self-destruction. The man that vowed to love her for eternity only knew one type of “love” — the kind where a man beats a woman until she’s lying on the floor, incapable of moving or defending herself. This was my first lesson in love.

My second lesson in love began in foster care. The first family that my sister and I were placed with was loving and caring, but because the foster parents were elderly, it was a hard transition. This family could have been my escape. However, they were only willing to adopt me and not my sister, and I informed my social worker that I would agree to join my younger siblings in another foster home.

The second foster home that I was placed in was no walk in the park. I found myself acting as a mom to my siblings and the foster kids that followed. I argued often with my foster mother’s adult children. I was often yelled at for forgetting to clean something. I vividly recall being dragged from my bedroom to the kitchen for forgetting to properly clean the stove. Why not speak up? Fear. I knew enough about the foster care system and the circumstances that other foster kids were going through, so I excused my situation by telling myself that things could be worse. This was home for me for five years, until I decided I’d be better off running away. But after being on the run for a month or so I returned to foster care. Despite everything, I wanted to finish high school, and head to college one day.

Upon my return, my social worker threatened me by saying that if I ran away again I’d end up at MacLaren Hall, an institution that held a negative reputation for child abuse and deplorable living conditions. In speaking with kids that were there, I knew that I was terrified of that place, and I would rather live in foster care than be institutionalized. By no means was I the poster child for “troubled children.” I had an attitude just like any other teen, and after many years of not defending myself from my foster family I arrived at a breaking point. Perhaps if my social worker spent more time on my case instead of worrying whether I signed a paper saying she visited me on a monthly basis, things would have never gotten out of hand.

I bounced to three more homes, until I found the home where I lived until I emancipated at age 18. This last home was a foundation for learning about faith, care, and love. I had plenty of challenges in this home, and in the end I learned to accept a few things. I believe that when a foster parent has a child of their own, their child will always come before you. I understand that it takes a good family and social worker to successfully transition a child from foster care to adulthood. Lastly, I know it takes a foster child to build the strength to speak up when there is injustice in the system.

My moment to speak up is now.

I want the children who have been abused or neglected, and all the kids who have been in care or are in care right now, to know that you’re not alone. My heart goes out to you. You are stronger than you think. You have the potential to get through your challenges, complete your college education, and one day form a loving home of your own. Don’t let the circumstances in your life be a deterrent. Use every negative comment or situation to your advantage.

Personally, my heart breaks when I see the statistics that highlight the fact that most foster children end up homeless, teen parents, dead, or abusing drugs and alcohol. We are the people who can change those statistics to reflect positive outcomes. We determine who we are and what we will become. As one of my favorite quotes by Angela Shelton says, “I’m not a victim, I am a survivor.” Remember these words in your darkest moments.

Published on May 3, 2014 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.