Coming Full Circle: My Foster Care Journey

On May 1, in honor of National Foster Care Month, Children’s Rights will launch a public awareness campaign to highlight the ways foster care affects people’s lives. Dubbed “Fostering the Future,” the project will feature a fresh blog post each day of the month from someone intimately involved in foster care. You can go to www.fosteringthefuture.com or like us on Facebook to share the blog entries and help spread the word.

One of CR’s own, Engagement Media Associate Tomas Rios, is kicking off the project by sharing his story. We are fortunate to count Tomas as one of the dedicated staffers who is deeply committed to our work.

Tomas

When I was 5, my mother passed away and I entered New York City foster care. I quickly saw just how bad it can be inside a broken child welfare system.

In the first home, I was treated like I didn’t even exist. It felt bad to be ignored, but I learned to be grateful for homes that were merely indifferent after I was placed in an abusive and neglectful one. A few more followed the first and I’m still reminded of them every day. Having my arm pressed against a pot of boiling water left a scar that I try not to glance at while I’m typing. A kick to the head from a work boot left a mark on my hairline that I glimpse whenever I comb my hair. There were many more injuries and they all have memories attached to them that I’ll never forget.

Being abused wasn’t the worst of it though; the countless nights I went to sleep hungry and hoping to never wake up again are what I recall most vividly. My entire childhood, or at least what I can remember of it, was spent knowing no one could be bothered with me, a feeling that has followed me well into adulthood. However, as I got older and learned more about the world outside of foster care, dreams of never waking up were replaced by dreams of escaping into a different life.

Luck came my way just before my 16th birthday, when I was placed with a foster family that cared about me. They went out of their way to make sure I got the mental health and educational help I needed to attain the different life that, until then, had been nothing more than a dream. Thanks to them, I was able to go to college and start the process of building a life for myself outside of foster care. Despite everything that happened to me while in care, I ended up being “one of the lucky ones.”

However, I still entered adulthood without a family or support system. It’s a day-to-day reality that weighs heavily on me—knowing that I don’t have the safety net so many people my age are accustomed to having. The traumas I went through obviously were difficult, but what I struggle with the most are the seemingly little things. Knowing that every birthday will come and go without a call from relatives. Every holiday season will be spent constantly reminded that I have no family to spend it with. Part of me will always be the scared little kid in a home that isn’t really home. This is what it means to have a “lucky” foster care experience for too many kids.

The idea that one has to hit the proverbial lottery to have a happy and productive life after foster care infuriates me to this day. There is nothing I can do that will change what happened to me, but I can do something to help make sure future generations of children don’t go through the same thing. That’s why I decided to work for Children’s Rights.

Now I get to spend my days as part of an organization fighting for the widespread reforms that failing child welfare systems desperately need. We have won court ordered improvements in more than a dozen states, making foster care a better place for tens of thousands of children. These include comprehensive screening of foster parents, better training for caseworkers and post-foster care services for youth exiting the system—the kinds of things that could have made all the difference for me while I was in care.

Read additional articles in Notes from the Field, the Children’s Rights Newsletter:
www.childrensrights.org/publications-multimedia/newsletter/