Making Foster Care Right

By Emalee Wooton

Emmalee-LargeSome people would guess that foster care would have been the best thing for me. Life with my biological mother was tough. I never really had stability. My mother used and dealt drugs, and she neglected us. We moved all the time. We were never really in school, and I was very behind in my education. I have five siblings, and we pretty much raised each other. And that is what led to me being put in foster care for nine years, until I aged out at 18.

I lived in 20 places. Foster homes, group homes, shelters, institutions, you name it. I felt very alone, because I never could stay somewhere long enough to make friends, or get close to anybody.

It was also the first time I experienced real abuse. I felt my first hunger pain in foster care. When I was 10 my foster mother put my head through a wall. By the time I was 13, I was so angry. I didn’t understand why this was happening. What did I do to deserve it? Why didn’t anyone love me? Why weren’t they there for me?

And instead of getting help, instead of somebody trying to help me cope with my situation, I was put on medication. I knew I didn’t need it. It made me feel numb. I didn’t even know who I was. I was diagnosed as bipolar and having ADHD. Bipolar disorder comes from a chemical imbalance in your brain. If you’re bipolar and you have to take medication for it, you’ll have to take it for the rest of your life. It is not like the flu. You don’t have it and get rid of it. I was put on medications starting at 13 for these diagnoses, yet now I am doing fine, and I don’t take anything but vitamins.

In my opinion, foster kids do not have the mental health support that we need. If you think about it, in one day, you lose your whole family, you lose everything you knew — whether it was bad or good, it is what you are used to, it is what you know. And then you are thrown into something different. It may be better, and sometimes it’s worse. It’s scary. And when you are so young all you know is your whole world just got flipped upside down. You have no one to talk to. You might be a couple hundred miles from where you are from. You are just in a totally different world and it’s like we are left to deal with that by ourselves. I know and have lived with three people who committed suicide, and I feel like it could have been prevented if somebody was there to help them.

Moving around, I learned how to survive, but I didn’t learn anything about living on my own after foster care. You pretty much get thrown out. When I left foster care I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to pay bills. I didn’t know how to drive a car. This past year I learned quick. But I am determined. I am not going to be a statistic. I am going to succeed and I am going to be a great mother for my kids. I’m going to give them the love and support they need. I want them to understand that they are always going to be accepted. That’s something I would have killed for growing up.

Foster care is so wrong and it needs to change in a big way. Kids need stability. We need love. I stand with Children’s Rights because I have seen how they can change foster care systems. How they can actually make foster care helpful, when a state takes you away from the parents who are wronging you already. That way when we come out of foster care we can be better people. We can live our lives better. We can understand how to cope with the situations that we went through. No child should endure what I had to endure–and there are thousands across the country just like me. As we close out National Foster Care Month, let’s band together and help change that.

Published on May 17, 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.