“One of the greatest titles in the world is parent, and one of the biggest blessings in the world is to have parents to call mom and dad,” former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint once said.
Like many foster youth, all I wanted was a family to call my own. I wanted parents to tell me that they loved me. I wanted someone to ask me how my day was. I simply wanted someone to care.
But I found that foster care did not build families. It didn’t give me the opportunity to be a child. It forced me to mature a lot faster than my peers. It made me live life thinking that “today is the day that I’ll be leaving,” so don’t get comfortable and definitely don’t get attached to anyone.
Before I entered foster care, I was physically and sexually abused by my mother and her boyfriends. When I was 14, my sister told someone at our school about the abuse. My three sisters and I were taken from my mother’s home and placed in a county-run shelter for abused and neglected youth. I found safety here, living in a cottage for teen boys, and attending school on campus. But since courses didn’t count toward my diploma, school served no purpose to me, and even though we lived on the same campus, I rarely saw my sisters.
After about two months, my sisters and I were placed in my aunt’s home. She was the most beautiful person in front of caseworkers, but was the complete opposite when they were not around. My siblings and I were confined to one room for most of the day, while my aunt’s biological children did as they pleased. She forced me to eat off of the ground and sleep on the floor. She kicked me out several times and told police that I ran away. I slept wherever I could find shelter, like on park benches, in park bathrooms and in the shed behind the house.
I remember begging the police to take me to jail, to take me anywhere just to get me away from her home. But I was told that there was nothing they could do, and my caseworker did nothing to help. One day, after a bad fight with my aunt, I decided I had to leave. My caseworker told me that if one of my siblings left, we’d all leave. That was a lie. I was placed back into the shelter, and my sisters stayed behind in this horrible home.
I was then moved to a therapeutic group home. I was struck by the cameras in the bedrooms, closets, living room and entryway, the locks on the pantry doors and refrigerators and the staff that monitored our daily lives. At times I felt like a prisoner chained by the destiny and the faults of my biological parents.
But despite the home’s flaws, I began to build a connection with the director, the man that I would come to view as a father figure. It would be this man who knew my worth, before I could even understand my value. It would be this man that I would spend years trying to emulate. He stood up for me when I didn’t have a voice. He helped me discover what I never knew was there. He taught me how to give back, despite not having anything but time to give. The relationship has made all the difference in my life. We still talk daily. I now live in a home that I rent from him and I work for him as a program coordinator at a non-profit organization that helps youth and families.
Teachers, church and community members also gave me various types of support, whether it was a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on, a wise voice when I needed help or a home to go to for the holidays. These people filled in the gap that my biological father and mother could not.
I used to think that I was destined to be an eternal victim, until I was shown that I could be eternally victorious. I began my foster care journey silent – I didn’t talk to women a lot and I was too afraid of men to even attempt to say a thing. But my pain has turned into success. When I’m not at work, I’m in college, majoring in political science and social work. I also sit on several different community boards that work on important issues like finding mentors for young people, improving how the court system relates to foster youth and empowering foster youth to use their voices to advocate for needed reforms.
To change foster care, I would make sure that youth are being fully equipped with knowledge about the real world, being an adult and the life skills they’ll need to be on their own. I would also require better background checks and mental evaluations for foster and kinship parents, both before and after they receive their licenses.
I want to tell young people in foster care to never give up, to always pick themselves up when they fall and to remember, even in the darkest times, someone loves them. Though they may not be where they want to be, as long as they continue to strive they will eventually reach their goals and have the lives they deserve.
Published on May 1, 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.