I remember it like it was yesterday. A worker from the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) knocked on the door, and when my mother answered, the worker said she was there to remove my siblings and me from our home. My father wasn’t there because he had just taken my older sister to the high school ball. I immediately ran upstairs and used the phone in my parents’ room. I called my best friend to let her know that I was being taken by the state and that I didn’t know why or when I would return.
My mother came up the steps and told my younger brothers, sister and me to pack a set of clothes for the weekend. After doing so, we said goodbye to our mother and got into a van where we all began crying hysterically. From there, we went to where my sister was to notify her that she wasn’t going to be picked up by our dad, but by a DCPP worker. We then went to the hospital and sat in the emergency room for hours waiting to get physicals done. After I watched my younger brothers and sister get dropped off at different foster homes, I got to mine at 1 a.m. What I thought was going to be a weekend stay turned into seven years. I would never live with my parents or siblings again. I was 14 at the time.
I was born into the foster care system because my biological parents chose to be a part of the crack cocaine epidemic to the point where I had it in my system when I was born. My biological mother signed a voluntary agreement that she was unable to care for me, so into the system I went. When I was five months old I was placed in a foster home with the Getty family and a couple years later they adopted me. They also adopted four other children, two boys and two girls, who are my adopted siblings. I lived with the Getty family for 14 years until the state came and took us away. Their reasoning for removing us was corporal punishment—physical and emotional abuse. Looking back, I now believe my siblings and I experienced these things, but it doesn’t compare to the trauma or the emotional abuse that the state’s foster homes caused.
I lived in 12 placements while in foster care, including six foster homes, two shelters, one residential treatment facility, one transitional living facility, one independent living program and my godparents’ house. I never called any of the foster parents mom or dad, it was always “aunt” and “uncle” because they couldn’t replace my adoptive parents. Some of the foster homes were good, but a majority were not. Unfortunately I was only in the good homes for a short period. Most of the time I had foster parents that didn’t care about how I felt, what I’d been through or what I wanted. All they did was talk about me, tear me down and complain about how much they didn’t get paid to deal with me. There were times when they would treat their children better than they treated me. In one home, a foster parent attacked me and we wound up fighting.
My best experiences were in residential programs because I actually felt like a human being. The staff taught me so many things that I still use now, such as learning how to cook, creating a resume and how to manage money. They helped me achieve independence through learning life skills so that I could have a chance at living on my own. They were the ones who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
I eventually aged out of the system at 21, but prior to that I got involved in The Center for Family Services and The Camden County Youth Advisory Boards (YABs). I became president of both, and was able to advocate for giving youth in residential programs a voice about the programs they live in, and for changes within the foster care system as a whole in New Jersey. These opportunities shaped me into the leader that I am today and helped me learn the true meaning of leadership and advocacy.
Today I am stronger, confident, resilient and a proud alumni of foster care. I say proud because without the system and the people who helped me get where I am today, I wouldn’t be able to help others who are in the system now. I am currently a student at Rutgers University Camden School of Social Work studying to get my Bachelors and Masters. I have spoken at many different events to help educate people on state care and I tell my story as a way to help other youth realize that they are not alone. I tell every youth who is placed in foster care that this is not the end all be all, but a stepping stone to get to where you want to be.
Published on May 18, 2016 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.