If Bella had the power to change foster care, she knows just what she would do.
“I would make social workers visit more, and really look into these homes when they are placing children,” she told Children’s Rights.
Bella, who says she was “born into foster care,” has good reason to call for more contact between caseworkers and children – she didn’t even know she was living in a foster home until she was 10 years old.
She had no contact with the child welfare system and no one told her she was in a foster home, she said.
Kids in foster care need caseworkers to visit them on a consistent basis to ensure they are safe and their needs are met. “When child welfare officials make the critical decision that they must remove abused and neglected children from their homes, it becomes their responsibility to make absolutely certain those children are safe and well cared for in their foster homes,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Executive Director of Children’s Rights.
Bella – and thousands of others – may have had different childhoods if caseworkers had bothered to check in with them.
Bella was sexually abused in her first foster home and verbally abused in her second, she said. Nobody asked her what was going on in her life, she said, and she had no one to tell.
After they were removed from their first foster home, Bella and her younger sister stayed in a shelter for a few weeks then moved to another foster home. At first Bella liked it there. A caseworker visited often, and the family was welcoming.
Then their caseworker changed. Their foster mom started calling the girls names, telling them they were ungrateful, dirty, and disgusting, not going to amount to anything, Bella said.
She said their new caseworker barely visited — so, they had no one to tell — and resorted to trying to sneak calls to child welfare staff to complain.
They were eventually adopted by the family, but Bella couldn’t take the verbal abuse. She stayed at a friend’s house, came back, and was ultimately kicked out of the home, she said. Bella, who earned great grades, was student council president, sang in the church choir and was a cheerleader, had no way to pay for college, so she dropped out. Children’s Rights met Bella at Covenant House in New York City, the youth homeless shelter where she has lived since December. Before finding her way to Covenant House, Bella slept on the subway and tried to stay with people she knew.
Bella wants child welfare officials to “really get a grasp” of the people they place children with, because she said “people can put on an act” and “everyone is not who they appear to be.” Children’s Rights knows an effective way to ensure kids are safe in foster care is to make sure caseworkers visit the homes and spend time assessing the children and families.
Despite everything, Bella still has hope, and she dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her voice can draw crowds in an instant. When she broke out in song, Covenant House staff gathered in a nearby hallway to listen to her incredible voice. She sings with a youth group, wants to go to a performing arts school, and just tried out for the show America’s Got Talent.
“I just want people to know that no matter what you go through and no matter how hard times are, that you can make it through,” Bella said.