The Power of Support

My experience in foster care was a roller coaster ride.

At 15, I was placed in foster care, when my mother’s struggles with mental illness elevated to the point that she could no longer take care of me and my younger sister. I lived in two foster homes with two totally different outcomes. The first catered to younger children and left me with very negative feelings toward the system. The second served teens, and changed my mind about foster care entirely.

When I think about my first home, the word “prison” comes to mind. It never felt like a home to me and I think the other kids that lived there would agree. We lived under the constant threat of being sent to a shelter, often for doing things that normal kids do. If I came home a little late from after-school activities because practice ran over or I missed the bus, I was accused of doing “something sneaky” and threatened with being kicked out. I never referred to that place as home. To me, it was just a house where my sister and I slept and ate and waited to be reunited with our family.

A lot of negative incidents occurred in that place, but one of the worst was when my sister was forced to fight another child in the garage. They were around the same age, and like little kids do, they’d bickered about everything under the sun. When my foster guardians grew tired of it, they forced them to fight out their differences. I’ve always tried to protect my sister. I never imagined she would be put in such an extreme situation, while living in a place that was supposed to be a “safe” home. Wasn’t this the very thing that foster care was supposed to shield us from?

Despite the instability in my life, I ended up excelling in school – I was on the honor roll, cheer captain and lead in the choir. The county was working to reunite my sister with our family, but I wanted to stay in the same high school, where I had one year left before graduation. At 16, I moved to my second home, this time without my sister. I lived with a stern but laid-back woman whom I call “Granny.” Although we disagreed about a lot of things, she had the kind of nurturing home and heart that I needed.

My first weekend at Granny’s, she did something that would have never happened in my previous home: she took my boyfriend and me tubing. I’m not sure if she knows this, but in one single trip Granny had shown me acceptance and support; things I’d never received in my first home. She was also there for me when my boyfriend broke my heart and when friends turned their back on me. Granny supported me in activities like becoming a Debutante in the 2000 Cotillion Ball with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter of the Links Incorporated, and becoming prom queen. She also helped me get into college.

In my adulthood, Granny revealed to me that my previous foster parents had “warned” her about me. Together, we proved them wrong. Support, acceptance and guidance can take a child to unimaginable heights. I eventually got my own apartment. I struggled for a few years before I really got on solid ground. It was hard, but I did it. I now have my own radio show on KMOJ in Minneapolis. I am back under the same roof as my sister and mother, who has received help to manage her mental illness. My daughter and nephew also live with us.

I do believe that foster care should change. No child should ever feel like their home is a prison. Children should have a safe place to discuss how they really feel about their placement and whether it’s working out for them. I believe in this so much, that I’ve accepted a speaking role on behalf of The Children’s Law Center of Minnesota to spread the word about the importance of giving foster youth a voice.

I had a voice when I was in foster care, but nobody listened. Now as a radio personality and public speaker, I can use my work as a platform to speak about the uncomfortable and unseen issues of foster care. Hopefully my online voice can do the same with this blog I wrote for Children’s Rights. There are definitely some good homes and families out there for our children. We should do everything in our power to make sure that these homes are the rule and not the exception.

Published on May 29, 2014 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.