Heads or Tails?

Jermaine FtF featured, blogWhen I was young, life was good. I have many fond memories. But seemingly overnight, our household became very violent. The people who adopted six children from foster care of their own free will went from loving to very abusive.

To the outside world, we appeared to be the “perfect family.” No one believed our parents could be capable of committing evil acts. Several investigations were started but they always fizzled out. Given our family’s reputation, it’s not surprising that the two children who attempted to run away and speak out were labeled as troubled–then removed from the home and given juvenile records to protect the “family image.”

The abuse ended after seven years because of a phone call. “Get the knives out of the f—ing sink before I stab you in your f—ing yellow chest,” my adoptive mom said to me, not knowing it was recorded on a voice mail message. That day was the last day we were captives of an abusive, oppressive life.

It was a week before Thanksgiving and the local agency wanted to keep the remaining four siblings together during the holidays and for the traumatic transition into foster care. After the New Year, we were split into two homes. Eventually, I was placed on my own.

This family was very loving and understanding. They set standards, held strong family values and held me accountable. Within one month they made sure I had new clothes and school supplies. I was behind the curve in school but my foster mom scheduled meetings with my teachers and helped enroll me in the classes I needed to catch up. My family went to church on Sundays and allowed me to attend youth group with their own children.

My family encouraged me to become involved in extra-curricular programs at school and supported me by paying for various camps and athletic wear. I suddenly became a three-sport athlete and was fortunate to become track team captain my senior year. My family also instilled in me the value of hard work. They provided opportunities to do odd jobs for the family business, and allowed and encouraged me to work. They helped me save my hard-earned money by setting up a savings account in my name. I was able to use some for incidentals, youth-group trips and other recreational activities, but they made sure I saved most of it. Eventually, I emancipated out of foster care with a solid job history and close to $4,000 in my name.

Most importantly, my foster mom acted as my personal advocate. She would plead with the foster care agency to help provide new clothes and school supplies each year.  She made sure I was available for sibling visits.  She made sure I completed driver’s education before I was 18 and ensured I was enrolled in an independent living program that bought a car and put it in my name upon my 18th birthday. My foster mom educated me on what programs I could utilize as a foster child, and then during my transition into adulthood.

Really, it was the ideal foster care experience. But when it came to my youngest sister Val, I had a lot of questions. She was the last to emancipate out of foster care, just after I served as a Marine living in Okinawa, Japan for three years.  During my conversations with Val, I was often frustrated to learn about her transition process. Before the school year was over, she had left her foster home after an argument and was living with a classmate. How did she manage to go to some random family when she was supposed to be in state care? Later, I would find out that Val purchased a car out of her own bank account and put it in name of this classmate’s parent, then was never able to get it back.

Somebody needed to act as a mentor and help her through the transition.  Her case worker did help her enroll into college and even drove her down to campus, but still, Val was 18, out of foster care, going to college, without a car or a driver’s license.  Two weeks later Val found herself leaving campus to live with a family of strangers because of another traumatic event. She was alone again, and felt it.  Why was her transition a harder road than mine? Why she was not prepared? Sometimes it feels like a game of heads or tails—and she lost.

I believe foster parents should not only provide a home but also do everything they can to mentor and prepare the child for life ahead. My foster family invested their love, time and money into my future. It was not always easy. Everyone has issues, but because of my foster family, I was able to develop and mature physically, mentally and spiritually to be able to overcome the statistical box that captures most children who emancipate out of foster care. Would it not be wonderful if more families become foster parents who advocate and invest in the future of our foster youth?

Published on May 23, 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.