Foster Care and Addiction: Breaking the Cycle of Trauma

Christina Parker

I am a former foster youth, someone who has suffered from substance abuse and has attempted suicide countless times. I lost my mother to addiction, my brother to incarceration. But I am not a victim of my circumstances—I am a survivor, an advocate and a teacher who pulls from traumatic experiences in order to shed light on important topics.

My mother’s mother’s mother was a slave. She endured inhumane treatment. She was ripped away from her mother, father, siblings, culture and everything she knew. Theoretically my great grandmother was a foster kid before the term existed. My grandmother and her sisters and brothers experienced brokenness, molestation, and other traumatizing experiences. Out of the six of them, four fell into heavy drugs. That brings us to my generation—the fourth generation of foster care and drug addiction.

My mother was an addict, and her addiction cost her her children and her life. I don’t know what trauma she experienced or what she felt the need to escape from or why drugs were her only way out. All I know is that there is a pattern of trauma and unhealthy ways of coping within my family.

If a house is built on a broken foundation, the problem isn’t evident to those looking in from the outside. The house can look solid structurally but the moment an earthquake happens it will fall down like a deck of cards. It is not easy to fix a broken foundation after the house is already built.

So what do we do?

We must understand the blueprint of those who suffer. We must understand how cultural historical moments contribute to trauma and understand that the cycles are deep. Drugs are used to cope with the shaking of the house. Knowing this, we need to begin to attack the problem by providing increased access to mental health care services, to therapy, to medication, to rehab, to extracurricular activity and other unique healthy ways of coping with trauma. We have to address the issues, be in rooms that are multi-dimensional. That way, we can understand multiple perspectives. It won’t happen in a few years. It will take a lot of education, conversations and healing.

What do I wish for?

I wish that trauma was a red flag and not the use of abusive behavior in an effort to cope with traumatic events. I wish that drugs would be seen more as the problem instead of the people who use them. I wish that when my brother was using drugs, gangbanging and committing crimes that they evaluated him, because if they had maybe his diagnosis of schizophrenia wouldn’t have taken 17 years to discover. Maybe his use of drugs could have been replaced with healthier substances and medication designed to treat the brain and not harm it.

It’s important to know that if a person cannot cope on their own, they will find other means to do so. Sometimes giving them medication has negative repercussions but at the same time some people need it, and denying them access to it can be detrimental.

I urge everyone to be empathetic, culturally sensitive, less judgmental and more proactive instead of reactive. We have to take these conversations and turn them into actions.

Christina Terese Parker is a motivational speaker and spoken word artist who has used poetry to express and address serious topics. She spoke recently at a Children’s Rights panel discussion on the devastating impact the opioid epidemic is having on an already overburdened foster care system. See one of her recent pieces here.