Foster Care: The Feeling of Isolation and Overcoming

John Devine largeAt 12 years old, my biological mother passed away due to hypertension. My heart felt like it had shattered into a million pieces to where it was impossible to put it back together. I felt extremely depressed, and most importantly, I did not know what the future held for me.

Because no immediate family members could take custody of me, I was placed in the California foster care system.

When my social worker explained to me where I was going to live, I felt anxious, and without a doubt, afraid of entering a new environment with people I did not even know. I remember my first foster mother telling me to not be nervous or scared and to feel like I was part of their family. But did she really understand what emotions I felt, or what thoughts were running through my mind? Did she understand the intensity and how emotionally draining it was to feel like I was an outcast from the rest of the world?

As the state shuffled me through four different foster homes, those questions became more of a blur. I started thinking that the only person who could truly understand what I was going through was me. School was becoming more difficult. I moved to multiple middle and high schools, and I was experiencing more grief and loss. Throughout the six years I was in the foster care system, 11 other family members passed away. The rest of my family disowned me and I felt that I was alone in the world, different from everyone else.

Questions seeped through my thoughts. Do other people experience trauma such as this? Do other people lose 12 family members consecutively? Why does everyone dislike and hate me?

I did not know how to feel anymore, nor how to express my emotions. I did not know who to turn to, and I did not know whether I would make it in life.

My social worker referred me to a behavioral counselor from Aspiranet – a non-profit organization that specializes in creating permanent, lifelong connections for children and families in California. They also provide services, like counseling, for foster youth. My counselor took me through the grieving recovery process; conducting activities to help me better overcome my grief and loss.

Toward the end of the program, my counselor told me that even though my parents may not be physically here, they will always remain in my heart. As soon as she said that, I reminisced of a time when I was a child and my biological mother would explain to me how she wanted me to be the first Devine in my family to achieve and succeed by earning a degree, working in a career that I loved, adding a foundation to the Devine name and building a family. Through this, I knew that my parents would not want me to be depressed. They would want me to continue living my dreams and accomplishing my goals.

Thanks to my behavioral counselor, I was able to get back on my feet and push through middle and high school. I was also able to attend California State University, San Bernardino, and earn three Bachelor’s Degrees in Sociology, Social Services and Gerontology.

Now I am pursuing my Master’s Degree in Social Work and working for Children and Family Services of San Bernardino. I assist youth and young adults ages 16-21 that are in the foster care system. As part of the Independent Living Program (ILP), we help foster youth by teaching them skills for everyday life so that they can be more independent and successful in their futures. We develop and coordinate different events throughout the year to teach youth about the importance of education, how to do essential tasks such as washing and drying clothes, washing dishes, and cooking, as well as how to budget so they can save money. I also conduct advocacy work for foster youth around the world on both a local and national level. I have dedicated my career to helping foster youth make sure they get the services and support they need in order to live healthy and sustainable lives.

With so many foster youth living in the world, I realize I am not the only one who has experienced total isolation. I know there are others out there who might be living through that experience right now. If you are feeling that way, I want to let you know that you might be afraid, you might be having mixed emotions from the traumatic experiences you may have witnessed, but no matter what, you are still you, you are a strong individual that can accomplish anything. From someone who has overcome similar challenges, I ask that you be strong and persevere, and I promise you will succeed through anything that life may hand you. There is nothing in this world that you cannot accomplish.

Published on May 6, 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.