Fostering Normal

Joseph Bakhit-largeThe black trash bag was heavy as I dragged it to the trunk. My vision was blurred with tears, but I still made out the numbers on the back of the county car. I was scared; probably even more so because the lady was accompanied by a cop. I hadn’t the slightest idea of what was to come. The lady promised my siblings and I would stay together; she lied. The eldest of us three was dropped off at a foster home that only had space for one. So, I dragged my big black bag back into the trunk. This was the first time we had ever been separated and I was prepared to do everything in my power to make it the last. I memorized the streets and freeways we took to reach the next group home. We were processed and taken to a foster home the next day. I was 11 years old.

We were taken away from my sister’s home not even a month after we moved in. We struggled to reunite for years after that. There’d be moments where we were all together and other times when one of us was missing. Sibling separation is very common among foster youth, because there are few foster homes that can take in large groups. When kin do stick together, they sometimes are forced to reside in group homes, which can have inadequate education and resources. In San Diego County (where I spent my time in the system), there are approximately 3,112 children in foster care — and 2,849 of them have one or more brothers or sisters. Of those, 508 are separated from one or more of their siblings, according to The Promises 2 Kids Foundation. My situation was one of the many, unfortunately, that contributed to this statistic.

Growing up in foster care had its challenges, yet everyone who inquires about my experience assumes it was a dreadful one. State care, much like any other system, is undoubtedly imperfect, however this doesn’t mean it isn’t rewarding. In fact it can be auspicious when one is able to access and utilize its resources. Many people asked: “What was it like being a foster kid; not having parents or a home to call your own?” Confused, I always answered, “It was just…normal.” I could sense when others got uncomfortable when I announced my dependency status, and I could see the awkwardness within their eyes but I didn’t care much. In hindsight I’ve always felt socially estranged, but my “foster-childness” wasn’t always to blame. In fact before the system my strict household didn’t allow for much social interaction outside of school, so since I was young I’ve been different.

So what was it like being in a foster home? Strange at first I suppose, but I grew to love my foster parents, and well, then there were the group homes. My first foster mother was a great hardworking woman, but we had to leave her because she was losing her house to foreclosure. My next foster parents were great. They were a loving couple that truly cared for me. We only left them for a chance to reunite with our sister but that didn’t work out either. Growing up I established many relationships but for a child with such inconsistent homes it was only natural to develop trust and attachment issues. My big black trash bag got harder to carry; bearing more weight on my shoulders each time.

Currently I am a 19 year old sophomore at the University of California at Berkeley. I intend to double major in peace and conflict studies and in the practice of art, with a minor in human rights. I am living with my fiancé and I couldn’t be happier. All my experiences have landed me to a successful space today physically, materially, spiritually and even educationally. I’ve grown up in a life I’ve learned to call normal, and with fortitude and resilience I have even learned to appreciate it. I’ve been dealt an unfavorable hand, though without the adversity in my life I wouldn’t have the same unique relationships and opportunities I have today. These continuous blessings wouldn’t have been possible without the foster care system. It’s a burden and a blessing, it’s a hindrance and an impetus, and it is the characteristic that is a part of me but doesn’t define me. So, how was it being in the foster system? It was normal, but what is normal anyway?

Published on May 5, 2015 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.