I’ll never forget when I entered my second placement in foster care. It was January 27, 2006, the day I was separated from my sister. I was fifteen at the time, and had only entered foster care a month before. My sister (who is nine years younger) was in the car with the social worker, the driver and myself. She was crying her eyes out as she hugged me good-bye. She was off to my grandparents while I was placed in an all-girls residential treatment center for adolescent girls. My heart was aching. I never wanted her to leave, though I knew she would be taken care of.
Like many other youth, we entered the system due to abuse and neglect by someone very dear to us. That person was my mother. Luckily, she never hit my sister. I got the wrath of it all. I didn’t mind, I could take it. I was more concerned about my sister’s physical and emotional well being than mine. After all, I was older and stronger. She was only in preschool.
ACS (Administration for Children Services) in Manhattan was the building where you would go before any placement was assigned. To me, it was both comforting and dreadful. Dreadful because I felt like a lab rat, having to be fed, bathed, and given medicine, all while having to see the psychologist and meet with my social worker at the same time, every day. It felt like we were all there on a punishment of some sort. Psychologists would question us while social workers found a placement. Upon arrival, employees gave you a black sweat suit, in a black or army green bag with a choking white tee shirt. Every single child in that building was now one in the same, a ward of the state.
And yet I also felt comfort. I was being taken care of–something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
After being discharged from ACS intake for the second time, I was placed in a DRC, or a Diagnostic Residential Center. The residential center was supposed to be temporary — a three-month stay. But I was there for eight months. When I arrived, a woman took my inventory. I had a handful of belongings to my name. It felt like a lock-down facility. You weren’t allowed out alone because staff were afraid you would go AWOL.
Many were there under a PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) warrant. That meant that they were either a threat to themselves or others. However, luckily for them, they were able to go home on the weekends and come back during the week. I wasn’t entitled to that freedom because I had no family to go home to at that time.
I must say, foster care saved me in many ways. When you’re in care, they evaluate you and give you the physical and mental healthcare you deserve. I was in poor physical and mental health before I arrived. I had mononucleosis, suffered from severe asthma attacks, and didn’t go to the doctor. It wasn’t until I was in care that I realized how sick I was, and was able to get treatment for both. I would not have gotten that otherwise. A psychologist also saw me twice over an eight-month timespan. The first time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, after being reevaluated, it changed to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I felt calmer after being diagnosed with GAD. I was able to accept that diagnosis over bipolar. I wasn’t given any medication for either diagnosis. I thought this was a good thing, I didn’t feel like I needed it.
Before foster care as a teenager I had no parental care. I didn’t even have a jacket. I would hang out in the streets and steal wine coolers from the deli at the age of 13. It seemed I was going down the wrong path in life, and I didn’t even know it.
Now, I am in graduate school and will receive my master’s degree this December. I love every aspect of life that comes my way. I’m living with my grandparents during the week and my sister and father during the weekends. I’m currently an NYC substitute teacher and trying to positively influence the youth just like some extraordinary adults positively influenced me. I truly believe that being in foster care saved my life. For that, and for anyone who has contributed to my overall development – Thank you.
Published on May 8, 2014 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.