Aging Out of Foster Care and Into Reality

LaTasha-LargeMost people wake up each day with a mom, a dad or some form of a family structure. However, the youth in foster care who have this type of life are few and far between. I entered foster care as an infant, and my childhood would forever remain “chained” there. Growing up in care was very difficult for me. I had no sense of self worth or identity and most of the time I felt alone, even though I had a foster family. I barely remember important parts of my life, like a year that I excelled in track or my drama performances, because no one was there to support me or cheer me on.

I was never adopted, and I grew up feeling that no one ever really wanted or loved me. As result I spent my entire childhood and the majority of my adult life drifting in and out of relationships, and struggling to grasp the concepts of life, love, trust and, most of all, family. The scariest part about being in foster care for me was turning 18. The average kid cannot wait to turn eighteen, graduate from high school and get ready for their journey to college or to travel down that brave road to adulthood. However, by the time I turned 18, the road to college was a distant memory.

Instead I was constantly looking for a place to live, couch surfing, trying to figure out how to pay for my most basic needs–on some days I even had to figure out how I was going to eat (and believe you me, there were plenty of nights that I went to bed hungry). This is the one area where I feel the foster care system, as a whole, has dropped the ball.

“Aging out,” is what they call it, and it affects thousands of kids across our nation; unlike the “Harlem shake” or some gaudy fashion, this “trend” never gets a million hits on YouTube, and you can’t pick it up and read about it in the latest fashion magazine. What you can do is see homeless teens skateboarding till nightfall, or hanging out in a library or local mall to keep themselves busy, to avoid thinking about the hunger in their bellies or the agonizing reality that they have no place to sleep.

This is what the end of foster care meant for me, and thousands of foster kids across this country. Not The Blind Side fairy tale ending you thought it would be, huh? Sure, that movie was based on a true story, but for thousands of us there is no Sandra Bullock–or her real-life equivalent–to whisk us away in a fancy car to a better life. Look at it this way…children are being removed daily from unimaginable situations of abuse and neglect; anywhere from physical abuse to the lack of proper food, housing, and unsanitary conditions. Those kids are removed from their families and now placed in the foster care system–understandably so. But many of them are well cared for, only to age out into the same conditions that originally landed them in foster care. This, without a doubt, needs to change!

In all fairness, there are some amazing foster care endings, where youth have thrived and they have done very well after exiting foster care. However wouldn’t you want every child to leave foster care with a success story?

Originally published on May 3, 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.