I was 16 when I was placed in foster care, and I went through four different placements in as many months. I felt like my life was in complete chaos. Not knowing what might happen to me was terrifying. Where would I sleep that night? How would I get to school? Seemingly simple things suddenly had the ability to destroy the world around me.
Nothing felt stable, and I never felt safe. I had no idea how to cope with feeling so helpless and out of control, and I struggled with self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and an eating disorder. To put it lightly, I was a wreck.
I felt worthless because no one seemed to know quite what to do with me. As my social worker said, it was “just too hard to find the right place” for me. I moved from a relative’s home where I wasn’t given the protection I needed to an overcrowded group home where I learned to keep my head down in an effort to avoid inevitable fights and confrontation. From there I moved to a foster home divided into separate areas for “family” and “foster kids,” which only further confirmed my belief that I no longer held any value to anyone. I gave up on those around me because if my own parents weren’t fighting to keep me, who would? I struggled, and I struggled hard.
Foster care taught me that I don’t matter, that I am disposable and no one wants me. It taught me that I am “just a foster kid,” a lost cause, a failure, and to trust no one, because promises mean nothing and secrets can’t be kept. You might say that foster care broke me.
Since leaving the system, I have ultimately learned that I was lucky. I was lucky to have had only four placements during the two years I spent in care. I was lucky to stay at the same school despite those moves. I was lucky to escape the abuse I had faced in the past, and I was lucky to receive the mental health treatment I so desperately needed. I was lucky to eventually be placed with a family who gave me the support I needed to begin to heal. They stood by me as I testified in three separate court trials, and they helped me to finally feel safe, to learn how to trust again.
But these things should not make someone lucky. A person is lucky if they win the lottery or a free trip to Disney World, find twenty dollars on the ground, or get to meet their favorite celebrity. A stable home, supportive and well-trained foster parents, consistent school attendance, protection from abuse, and access to adequate mental health services – things any young person who is not in foster care might take for granted – should never make a child “lucky.”
Foster care is a traumatic experience, despite the best intentions of social workers and foster parents. It infuriates me to think that another child, for no reason other than “luck,” might not have had the same outcome I did, and this injustice fuels my passion for change in the system. I don’t ever want to forget what it felt like to have my life in the hands of strangers because that is what drives me to continue to be an advocate, to fight for more success stories.
Surviving foster care taught me resilience, independence, and determination. It made me into a warrior, fighting for a life I never thought I deserved. Surviving foster care made me empathetic and compassionate because I know what it’s like to be abandoned, to have no faith in an uncertain future. Looking back, I say that despite the odds, surviving foster care built me.
I want the future to be brighter for my foster brothers and sisters who will follow in my footsteps. I want foster care to build them, not break them; I want them to flourish, not simply survive. They are, after all, our future. They will be our doctors and lawyers, our artists and teachers, our social workers and scientists. They will someday change the world, and they deserve a future built on something far more certain than luck.
Published on May 2, 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.