Immigration has taken a toll on more than 80,000 Latino youth, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau. I am one of them. I was thrown into foster care at age 13 when my father was deported. To me there is no logic in putting kids in care when they have loving parents–parents who came here to do their best for their families and lack only one document.
For the past five years I’ve had a real lens with which to examine foster care, and I have seen children become lost in a whirlpool of anger, neglect and despair. They land in child welfare systems that are so overburdened, it feels like kids are viewed as mere numbers rather than individuals with real needs, particularly as the placements and paperwork start to stack up.
This felt especially true for my younger brother. He and I were separated in care. Adjusting to his new life was really difficult, and sometimes he acted out. He was put in placements that were meant to help him deal with our situation, but they were restrictive, lock-down style facilities. Our caseworker would promise to move him to an independent living program when his behavior improved, but when he progressed, he was told there was nothing open. That would cause him to act out more, and he’d get blamed for the shortcomings of the system.
My brother and I have different styles of coping, and I ended up with fewer placements. But that doesn’t mean foster care was easy. I remember the first night I spent at the shelter that ended up being my “home” for nine months. I cried. I was lost. I felt abandoned. I balled up on my bed not being able to speak to anyone, not being able to confide in anyone. I desperately needed it to be a bad nightmare. Instead I woke up to staff, to other residents, hearing about medication, curfews. I had never experienced something like this.
I left the shelter to live with a distant cousin for two years, but it didn’t work out. I came back into care and was put in a group home in a different county, and I had to start a new school. My caseworker told me that education was not her priority at the time. That she didn’t care if my records or my GPA were affected by the move. For six months I was at this group home, then another group home for about nine months. And it did affect my education–my teachers could tell you I was a great student, the instability in my life meant poor grades and poor attendance on my transcript. This troubled me greatly because all along, the only support I got came from school. It was a haven where I could release all the negativity in a positive way.
If the system did a good job at keeping me close to the family I grew up with, then maybe I would’ve had some kind of emotional stability. The first time I came into care they moved me about an hour away from where my family was, and for a good six months I had no contact with them, not even my brother. As often as I tried to advocate to see my brother, it would always take three months or more just to be able to see him for an hour. I grew up with my brother as far as I can remember. It would have been better if they kept us together.
The system showed no remorse for taking my innocence or childhood. My father isn’t here to support me in the way that I would have liked. He will not get to see me buy my first car or go to my senior prom. Most importantly, he will not be at my graduation when I give my speech as senior class president and receive my diploma. Nor will he get to drop me off with pride at Syracuse University, which I’ll attend in the fall on a full academic scholarship. These are the significant moments that any teen, of any background, would want his parents to support.
These are pieces of my life that I will never recover, but despite losing them, I continue to press forward. And there is support. The Multi-Alliance Agency for Children has been there for me as I’ve transitioned into independent living, and influenced and encouraged me to reach for my dreams. Thanks to them I have made it my cause to advocate for thousands of young people who have and will go through foster care.
Published on May 9, 2013 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.