When I look back at my education – and the fact that I failed my high school graduation exam four times – I know that context matters. Spending high school in two different children’s homes followed by two different foster homes matters.
They say that kids who grow up in foster care are diagnosed with PTSD at twice the rate of US war veterans –soldiers who are on the ground in man-to-man combat. I can testify to that. Foster youth go through so much early childhood trauma. That was my situation. When I went into foster care, I was removed from my biological parents and siblings. I never saw them again (my parents have since passed away and my siblings were adopted out and I haven’t been able to locate them). The trauma of losing my family and the anxiety that comes with never feeling “normal” led to me to being put on a lot of medications while in high school… medications that not only didn’t mix well but made it nearly impossible for me to focus in school.
Not being able to focus REALLY stressed me out and just compounded my anxiety. Just knowing I had a test coming up would trigger an anxiety attack, because I knew that no matter how hard I studied, I would do poorly. I couldn’t retain anything. My brain was in a constant fog. And then there was the state high school graduation exam. It loomed over me and haunted me. Prior to the medications, I was a B student. I remember asking my social worker, whom I saw once per month, to help me secure a tutor. I guess a tutor wasn’t doable, but she did give me a computer… which, while incredibly kind and generous of her, didn’t quite help me.
The home that I was living in at that time wouldn’t let me use their internet. Had I been allowed internet access, I might have been able to find online study guides for my state’s high school graduation exam. I just felt helpless and defeated approaching that test. Like I said, I failed it not once but four times! Hey, at least I’m persistent! Here’s the funny part (well, maybe it’s not that funny): when I turned 19, I had to stand before the court to receive my “aging out” documents.
These documents officially relieve the state of any and all responsibility relating to my welfare and well-being. Guess what the documents said? They said that I was working AND attending college! I seriously wish that had been the case. The truth is that I was doing neither, and those documents sadly evidence just how inadequate and at times incompetent the foster care system is. Last I checked, it’s pretty difficult to get into college when all you have is a high school Certificate of Attendance.
The good news is that I never gave up on my education, and my persistence eventually paid off. The same year I aged out, I met a guy (my now husband) who refused to let me settle for a Certificate of Attendance. He bought me books online to help me study for my G.E.D. Since I had aged out of care, I also was able to better manage my medications. My boyfriend took me to G.E.D. study classes, and when I passed the test, he also helped me enroll in college. That was 10 years ago, and I’m still getting my education. College is expensive, but I’m determined to get my social work degree no matter how long it takes. And no, I do NOT intend on working as a social worker for the state. They failed me. I plan on getting my degree and opening up a CASA center! Someday, you just watch…
Published on May 3, 2017 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.