Life Facing Foster Care

By Jaquan Melton

jaquan largeI feel like I live in a world where my voice has never been heard. But every voice has a story. I ask you, are you listening?

How is it right that I suffered because I was born into a family where love was not given nor proper care shown?

The good times I’ve had–can I honestly say any of them happened when I was younger? No. I have been in more than 15 foster homes. It’s part of the reason I know as many languages as I do–half of the houses I went to didn’t speak English, so I learned Spanish, Creole and Patois.

In one house all of the foster youth were taking medication. I think that this foster mother, the most abusive of all, exaggerated our emotions and behavior– so she would get extra money for the more complex cases, and so she could cover her actions. The caseworker chalked up our complaints to behavioral or mental health problems and didn’t believe us. If asked how we were doing, we knew to lie. I wish caseworkers were better trained to look past the words to the children behind them.

Eventually I got adopted into that family. I didn’t know what it meant. No one explained it to me. I thought I was on my way to a banquet. So when the judge said “Do you want to be adopted?” I said, “Yes your honor,” but I didn’t exactly know what was going on—I was expecting food to be at the thing.

It sounds funny, but the only time we were safe was when our adoptive mother was in a relationship. Because then she behaved herself – I wasn’t getting hit by an extension cord, a 2×4, bottles, a coffee pot.

When I was 11, a neglect petition was filed for me and five other children, including some of my biological siblings. We were all removed. My adoptive mother gave my sister Ruby back to the system. Two other children went to other family members. The rest of us were all returned. To this day I don’t know why.

Once, when I was 14, I called 311 to ask how I could go about being “unadopted.” They just told me to go to my agency, but it had closed. Another time when my adoptive mother threw me out, I went out in the cold with no sneakers trying to seek help.

Eventually we moved to Maryland, and I was kicked out of what was supposed to be my “forever” home. At 17, I was working at McDonalds, going to school and trying to pay rent…it wasn’t easy. When I applied for welfare the guy told me, “Oh, you’re not approved because you’re receiving some sort of income.” With a dumb look I said, “I work, sir, this is all the income I’m receiving.” He said, “Not according to these papers.”

Turns out my adoptive mother got an estimated $38,400 even after she kicked me out! I didn’t even know she was getting money to care for us. We always wore donated clothes. When I brought a child support case, I found out she also got money for other children that were no longer in her care. For years I was treated not as a child but a means to a paycheck.

Too often children like me are adopted just for the money – and they aren’t even well cared for. Adoption should be treated like an auto lease. You should have to renew every few years, just so caseworkers can make sure the child is ok and the family has everything they need. And money should not go to adoptive parents who no longer care for their children.

They say that two out of three children who age out of foster care end up homeless or in jail. I say that the outcomes for some adopted kids may not be much better. And no one wants to be a percentage in a negative outcome. While I don’t feel life owes us anything, I do feel we are not given a fair chance to change the outcomes in our lives.

Can you imagine growing up in a house where you’re constantly reminded you don’t belong and you are of no kin to them? There were times when I had no one to turn to. I feel love has a limit–if you never got it young you will be confused when you get older. You will question everyone’s motives and feel they want to bring you nothing but pain.

Sometimes I want to give up. And after everything I’ve endured, it makes me wonder if I am doing right by my children. But I am making my own way. I have managed to stay on the right side of the law. Never have I been convicted of a crime. I now have good work as a security guard, and no matter what, I will be a better father to my beautiful baby girls.

Published on May 15, 2016 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.