They Call It Resilience

The foster care system is the number Steffanie-Largeone establishment in this nation that was built specifically to protect children. In my case it took more than five years of verbal abuse, neglect and rape for me to finally get my protection–not just food, shelter and clothes, but a real loving family who I knew would never hurt me.

In late 2002 my brother and I moved into our first foster home, where the foster mom’s two grown sons spent all the money she received. We never saw a dime of it. Within six months I was urging my social worker to get me out of there. It took him another six months to make it happen. Half the time we didn’t even live with our foster mother! We lived with her son next door. It was wrong for her to lie, and bizarre that the social worker didn’t find out.

In 2003 my brother and I moved into our second foster home, where he lived for two years until he aged out of care, and I lived for five. I can honestly say that those were and forever will be the worst years of my life. At first everything seemed fine. I was 11 when I moved in and was treated like a princess. I shared a room with their youngest daughter and we ruled that house. Whatever we wanted for dinner we got. Whenever we wanted new clothes we got them. Life couldn’t have gotten any better.

It didn’t. I was about 13 when the verbal abuse came out of nowhere. My foster parents called me big nose, pimple face, no butt, you name it. They would say my mother didn’t love me and that I was so ugly I’d never get a boyfriend. I was in that prime age of building my identity and they built it for me–a negative image of myself that I completely believed.

I literally became their slave. I cooked and cleaned on demand. I was even made to sleep in the garage for a month because I had “an attitude.” I didn’t tell my social worker everything because he was not the best at addressing conflict. Once, my foster mom was mistreating me and I reported it. Instead of speaking to us separately, he sat us down together and said, “So Steffanie tells me you are being mean to her. You can’t do that.” He left it at that, and afterward she yelled at me till I was in tears. I was afraid to report her again.

My foster mother seemingly developed a hatred for me that I could never comprehend. One day her husband saw me crying while I was washing dishes. He said he was sorry that his wife was so mean, and gave me a comforting hug–then demanded a kiss. My heart dropped. I said no and pushed myself out of his arms.

One week later he came early in the morning, scooped me up, and took me to the back room. With a stern voice he told me to get in the bed. As I did he undressed himself, crawled in and undressed me while I cried. He whispered in my ear, “I’ll be gentle.” I was 15 and no longer a virgin and he was 45 and had no remorse. For eight months straight he raped me daily. At one point I asked why he was doing this to me. He said if his wife already thought he was, he might as well do it anyway.

I moved the day that I reported the rape and never saw them again. The new home was decent. My foster mother was a nice lady but she gave us foster kids the bare minimum, and for two more years I was on the hunt for that real love of a family.

In February 2011, my senior year, I was offered the chance to move again. The people had been named Foster Family of the Year, had nine kids and were Christians. I was not into the whole religion thing but I thought I would give this family a try. Within a few months I could feel something different. Bob and Ellen never referred to me as their foster child, I was their daughter. And they were my mom and dad. This love made me cry tears of joy. They told me it was because of the love of Jesus. I gave my life to Christ in August of 2012, and it was the best decision I ever made.

The foster care system ultimately did its job but it took until just after I turned 18 for it to happen. I was subjected to more abuse during my first five years in the system than the whole nine that I lived in my “unstable” and “not safe” home with my biological mother. One I was in care I needed unscheduled visits from my social worker, and visits outside of the home, to help protect me. If he showed up on any day other than the scheduled visit, he would have gotten a very different picture.

Social workers are overloaded–and once they’re overloaded, you become a number. Because I was the “good child” in my second home, which had three other foster kids, I got ignored. Teachers and friends would approach me to ask what was wrong, but not my social worker. The one person who came to the house to check on my well-being wasn’t seeing anything.

I went through a lot of hardship and abuse to get to where I am today, but I’m making it. I’m in university, studying communications, with plans to graduate in 2015. I’m proud that, despite everything I endured, I’m able to maintain excellent relationships with all types of people without fear or nervousness–even with older men. I thank God for everything I went through because it gives me such great strength, and the chance to give hope to other foster youth.

Published on May 24, 2013 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.