Growing up in foster care can be challenging. It can also be a good thing, as weird as that sounds. Some children come from terrible situations within their biological families and they will be helped in a home where there is love and support; at times foster care can provide more opportunity and a better quality of life than a traditional family. For me, it was a mixed bag. I had both good and bad experiences during my 12 years in state care.
I went into my first long-term placement when I was 7 years old. I stayed there for about five years, but they weren’t the most pleasant years. At first, I was the only girl in the home, with three boys. By the time I was moved, five years later, there were six boys there, and I was still the only girl. Only one of the boys was my biological brother. During my time in that home, I was physically and sexually manipulated. So many things went on there, but only my outbursts were reported to my social worker. I even was put in the home of a different member of that family so that the foster parent would continue getting paid.
I spent the rest of my seven years in state care constantly being moved from home to home. I was put in group homes and in – and quickly out of – “first time” or “trial” foster homes. In at least five of my homes, I lived with foster parents who were newly licensed or ones who had never had foster children, much less a teenager who had been emotionally, physically and sexually abused.
I discovered that so many people get involved in fostering for the money and not to make a lasting impact on a child’s life. But I had a few good short-term, or respite, foster parents, and they are the ones who are still in my life today. To me, the foster parents who didn’t want to foster full time were better mentors and parents.
The lady I call “Mama” today was one of my short-term foster parents. I was 18 and pregnant when I went into her home. She made me feel so welcome. She gave me my own room, called me “daughter” and cheered me up when I was sad. I was moved from her home after a different parent had finished her training hours to be licensed and wanted to try fostering. “Mama” continued supporting me after they moved me by picking me up to run errands, checking on my son after he was born and taking me shopping. I still spend holidays and special occasions with her, and she is still a positive role model in my life.
Throughout my time in care, I also developed close relationships with some of my social workers. I had one who talked to me as if I were a younger sister and I found I could trust her. That was a big deal for me, because one of my biggest challenges was learning to trust people.
My advice to anyone going through the foster care system is to utilize the services offered to you. Counseling is beneficial, and although different cultures speak against emotional therapy, it can have a major impact on success after care. For me, I would never talk to anyone and I channeled my anger through defiance and opposition. It is traumatic to be placed into a system where you don’t know who you’re going to be living with, you’re not familiar with their culture or beliefs, and you feel as if no one understands you. Talk to a therapist so that you can be placed with the best available family and possibly be adopted.
I always knew that one day I would be grown and would no longer have to live in strangers’ homes. Although I have the privilege of being an adult now, sometimes I wish I could be a kid again. But remember that your current situation won’t last a lifetime. One day you will be able to make your decisions for yourself and you will be accountable and responsible for doing so. Don’t rush that.
My life could have turned out differently had I not made the best of the better circumstances. Had I not kept in contact with those few good apples, I could have become a victim of the system but instead I remain victorious. Today I am an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, majoring in social work. I hope to earn my Master of Social Work degree, and do some public speaking and coaching for teenagers in foster care. I want to show them that no matter where they came from, they can succeed.
Published on May 24, 2015 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.