Drastic Changes Desperately Needed for Children in State Care

By AJ Peters

AJ-LargeState custody saved my life; it also ruined it. Inside, I’m a mess but I do my best to make sure you would never know it if you saw me.

I was in and out of the foster care system from the time I was 3 years old, until I finally left for good when I was 19. Two weeks before I first went into care, my grandparents took a photo of me, a cute, innocent, blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl in a red, white and blue dress. What you can’t see: that my grandma worked for two hours putting makeup on my face to hide the massive bruise my father put there.

When I was removed from my parents’ abusive house and placed in a foster home, it was the first time I slept through the night–I guess I must have felt safe. Then new horrors began to come around. I was molested by other foster siblings in different homes and abused by the ones who were supposed to look after me. And I lived more places than I can count. Not knowing where I would live from one day to the next would have been terrifying to anyone, let alone a child as young as I was.

The constant changing of case workers meant that my pleas were going unheard and unnoticed. Standing up for myself and telling others to stop hurting me made me an unruly child. Fighting them off of me only labeled me as aggressive. Telling my case worker what was happening cast me as a lying, attention-seeking child. No family wanted an unruly, aggressive, lying, attention-seeking child in their home. So off to group homes and treatment centers I went. I was terrified. I had every reason to be.

A 13-year-old child has no reason to be locked up in a mental hospital where she can hear screaming adults and fights day in and day out. Yet, there I was, lying awake at night, too afraid to close my eyes. I was put on powerful psychotropics to “help the behaviors and to sleep.” The medication could really only be credited for turning me into a living zombie. I was doing everything in a half-awake, half-asleep state. Due to all the medication I was forced to take, in just a short two months I went from weighing 120 to 240 pounds. I still struggle today to get the weight off. Needless to say, the time I spent in state custody definitely changed me forever. Some ways are good; others would make for a great Stephen King novel.

Even though I have been on my own now for 10 years, I know that drastic changes are still desperately needed for all of the innocent children who are currently in state care, through no fault of their own. Things like foster parents who actually want to help children heal and not just collect their monthly checks–they are in urgent demand. Better child treatment centers and many more volunteers. Transitional living centers for teenagers who are aging out. More programs for children to develop social and independent living skills so they are better prepared when they exit custody, knowing the things that other children learn naturally from their parents. When I left, it was with $650 and a wave goodbye. I had nowhere to go, and ended up in homeless shelters for years.

More people who have been in the system need to speak out and volunteer to be the voices of these kids. Very few can hear their cries for help, but former foster youth have the ability to speak out and use tools like YouTube, Facebook, campaigns like this one, to make sure the thousands of youth in care can hear our voices. If we as a society really want a better and bright future for them, we have to do everything we can to make that change happen.

I am still affected by what they did to me. I will always be affected by what they did to me. If by writing this, I can save one child from sharing my fate, then I know that I am doing the right thing.

Published on May 20, 2013 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.