Surviving the System

Alexis Griffin largeMy life has always been eventful. My mother struggled with drug addiction for most of it and my father was in and out of prison. I was placed in foster care twice, between the ages of 4 to 6, and then again from 12 to 18. I spent my last 6 years of being a minor in at least 10 to 12 different homes.

The instability was hard to handle, and led to one of my worst memories. One day I was pulled out of class and picked up by my social worker; it was then that I learned about the 7-day notice foster parents can give social workers to find kids a new place. My foster mom had given our social worker notice, but we were not aware of it; some of our stuff was packed in the back of her car, which was waiting to take us to a new home.

For a system that was supposed to protect and raise children with parents who were deemed unfit, they failed in my eyes. I was accused of stealing and threatened by people who would watch my sister and me. There was the terrible feeling when foster parents treated us differently than their own—we could tell who wanted to make a difference and who just needed the extra income. I was even sexually abused by people I should have been able to trust.

Still, foster care was a unique experience that I have learned so much from. Even though I endured pain in situations where I was supposed to be protected, I am grateful for the chance to have become a stronger person. Foster care taught me how to mask my feelings, it helped me develop trust issues, but it also taught me what statistics to beat. In high school I was told that less than 10 percent of foster kids graduate from college: That was one of the many things that motivated me to exceed expectations.

I have a list of individuals who contributed to my success. It literally took a village to raise me, and even if that village was a bit dysfunctional, I managed to become a better person. I was fortunate enough to have a family friend who was more like my mother. She never judged, always loved me and fought to provide a better quality of life for my sister and me. I honestly don’t know where I would be without her. My family was involved as well; my sister and I were able to spend weekends at their houses and that helped.

And we had a few sets of foster parents who loved me and my sister and treated us as kin; I am still in contact with them. Our last foster parents made the lifetime commitment to be our parents, the ones who we can depend on. We have had our ups and downs like all families do—but instead of the 7-day notice, they decided to work on being the parents that we need. Even though we had a rough beginning they have made our futures brighter, and for that I am grateful.

But it wasn’t easy along the way. My anger came in my later years, but confusion came earlier—I was always seeking attention to feel loved, and settling for negative attention because at least I was acknowledged. As I got older, I started to develop a fear of being alone. But I tried to push away those who tried to get close to me because in my eyes, everyone left. Overcoming this was a struggle.

Becoming a mother has been one of my biggest accomplishments. Aside from being close to graduating with a bachelor’s degree, my son has added to my life in a positive way. Being a foster child and having to live through that pain has made me appreciate having my own family. I now have the support I wanted all along, and my husband is the dad to my son that I had always needed.

Now that I have a child of my own, I cannot imagine having him go through the pain I had to so young.

Knowing that I can protect him from that is what keeps me motivated to move forward. I had this fear of failing as a mom because of my mom, but my son has shown me that only my life choices will determine his beginning, and it is up to me to break that cycle.

Fortunately, I have learned from my parents’ mistakes, forgiven them, and decided it was healthier to move forward. If I could send a message to foster youth out there I would say don’t look back. The past can only dictate your life if you allow it to. Just because you had a rough start doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful finish. You CAN do it. Don’t let statistics determine your outcome! It will get hard and at times you will feel like giving up. Just know you deserve to break the cycle and overcome your struggles. If you are patient, there will be brighter days.

Published on May 2, 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.