This post originally ran as part of our Fostering the Future 2015 campaign. It has been re-posted today for A+ Mentor Week to showcase the difference one exceptional foster parent can make.
I didn’t know anything about foster care before I reluctantly entered it at the age of fourteen. I was a typical teenager who never thought about what happened to kids if they didn’t live with their parents. My parents weren’t perfect, but they were always there for me until drugs came into our lives.
I was thirteen when my mother and stepfather started using and dealing, then shortly after, I started to use drugs too. It was during this time, under the influence, that my stepfather started sexually abusing me. This abuse led me to overdose on cocaine.
I’ll never forget that day I almost died. The day my face turned blue, my heart stopped beating and I stopped breathing because I overloaded my adolescent body with drugs. I was addicted to feeling numb since a family member was abusing me in the most disturbing way possible. I was revived and the paramedics transported me to a hospital, which eventually led to an investigation. My mother died of unknown causes shortly after my overdose and before my entry into foster care.
To say I was traumatized is a serious understatement. I was destroyed. Though completely sober at the time of being processed into foster care, I resembled a human zombie. I was there physically, but emotionally and mentally, I was a million miles away from my body, my environment, and my foster care situation. Following the life-altering events that thwarted me into the system, I prayed every day for God to kill me. I wanted my soul to disappear indefinitely.
I was already broken at the point of entry, but bouncing around fourteen different placements in two separate counties while in care made my chaotic life worse, if that were possible. So much worse that I was driven to write my first book, “Foster Girl, A Memoir,” on what I went through.
Fourteen different placements in four years sounds like a lot, and it was, but that’s par for the course for any system child. It’s not that I was some “bad kid,” it is just how our child welfare system is geared. Some placements were temporary holding centers; my kinship guardian wasn’t reimbursed fast enough to support me and she barely could afford to care for me in the first place, so she had to give me up. I also had a foster parent die of old age, and I was placed at different emergency homeless shelters and group homes. The only time I was kicked out of a home was when I got into one argument with the biological daughter. Not a fight, an argument. The biological daughter didn’t want me at the home anymore. So, on cue, her parents called my social worker the next business day, and poof, I was gone.
So with the world crumbling around me, what was critical to my sanity in foster care?
Not being separated from my one and only younger sibling. I had a responsibility to her. The threat of separation was imminent though and used on us at every placement as a way to keep us girls in line – as if it were our fault that we were in the system in the first place.
Ultimately, in addition to staying with my sister, it was my last foster mother who saved me from myself. She was a high school teacher, so she was used to teenagers. She didn’t have any biological children and didn’t have these great expectations that I should be perfect. She didn’t expect me to open up my loving arms and connect with her right away. No, she only wanted to stabilize my sister and me by creating a solid launching pad for normalcy. She wanted us to focus on finishing high school and prepare for college or a vocational job instead of having us worry where we were going to live day-to-day. She also taught me how to apply and interview for a job, open a bank account, save money and drive a car. She acted like any regular parent would with their child. She made me feel normal.
It was years of moving around in relative uncertainty before I was placed into this last foster home, but my final foster mother, Judith Reith, no doubt saved my life. I wish every foster child had a Judith in his or her life. My heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of traumatized children who are expected to parent themselves in an outdated system. The current state of foster care is an inhumane way to raise our society’s children. We can do better.
Originally published on May 2, 2015 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.