Demontea Thompson contributed his “We Made It” poem to Children’s Rights’ #FosterMyEducation campaign. Demontea is a graduate student at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. He is an emancipated foster youth who advocates for the foster youth community in the Los Angeles area. In addition to his academic pursuits and advocacy work, Demontea is an accomplished poet who has performed his spoken word at campuses across the country.
When I look back at my education – and the fact that I failed my high school graduation exam four times – I know that context matters. Spending high school in two different children’s homes followed by two different foster homes matters.
They say that kids who grow up in foster care are diagnosed with PTSD at twice the rate of US war veterans –soldiers who are on the ground in man-to-man combat. I can testify to that. Foster youth go through so much early childhood trauma. That was my situation. When I went into foster care, I was removed from my biological parents and siblings. I never saw them again (my parents have since passed away and my siblings were adopted out and I haven’t been able to locate them). The trauma of losing my family and the anxiety that comes with never feeling “normal” led to me to being put on a lot of medications while in high school… medications that not only didn’t mix well but made it nearly impossible for me to focus in school.
Not being able to focus REALLY stressed me out and just compounded my anxiety. Just knowing I had a test coming up would trigger an anxiety attack, because I knew that no matter how hard I studied, I would do poorly. I couldn’t retain anything. My brain was in a constant fog. And then there was the state high school graduation exam. It loomed over me and haunted me. Prior to the medications, I was a B student. I remember asking my social worker, whom I saw once per month, to help me secure a tutor. I guess a tutor wasn’t doable, but she did give me a computer… which, while incredibly kind and generous of her, didn’t quite help me.
Fostering the Future is turning five this month and May of course is also National Foster Care Awareness Month! With that in mind, this year’s Fostering the Future has taken aim at a critical issue for the 670,000 youth that spend time in state care every year: education. For many, simply earning a high school diploma can be one of the greatest challenges of their young lives. Children’s Rights and foster care alumni across the country are “schooling” the nation this month on the challenges youth in care face while simply trying to GRADUATE high school! Watch our Stability video and join Children’s Rights in the fight for delivering the educational opportunities youth in foster care deserve.
Growing up, I did not have foster parents encouraging me to pursue higher education. Their overall level of engagement was low: “Just graduate high school.” Few foster youth graduate high school, so getting my high school diploma was all that was really expected of me and my foster parents. I couldn’t even get my foster parents to pick me up from school if the bus was late coming back from a volleyball match, let alone help me purchase knee pad replacements or volleyball jerseys.
My varsity volleyball team was my family. They gave me the structure and stability that the foster care system didn’t. Through developing friendships with teammates, I was exposed to what a more traditional home life looked like. Through them, I was also exposed to AP classes as well as the college admissions process. Applying to college was extremely difficult. I didn’t have the resources that many non-foster youth take for granted. For example, I didn’t have a computer to fill out my applications (luckily, a teacher was able to help me access one), and I didn’t have a way of preparing for the ACT and SAT. I couldn’t afford study books, and prep courses were completely out of the question. I learned that when I asked the county for financial aid to cover a prep course. The person at the county desk gave me a look of complete bewilderment … as if I was the first foster youth to attempt higher education. In fairness, no foster youth I knew or lived with ever went to or graduated from a 4-year or even 2-year college.
College applications aren’t designed with foster youth in mind; the process was beyond challenging. There was one box that acknowledged my existence as a member of a “marginalized population” and a 500-word section for “further information.” I didn’t even know what to write for my “home address.” How could I provide a “home address” when my “home” could change at any minute? I also struggled to explain all the gaps in my education, such as why I randomly went to high school in Georgia for one semester my junior year (a rogue court ruling!), and how doing so resulted in me missing critical AP coursework (in Georgia, the first semester of AP coursework was a replica of California’s second semester of AP coursework, so I effectively took the same coursework twice and missed an entire semester of coursework) which in turn led to me scoring lower than I would have liked on my AP and SAT 2 tests.
Now that I’m in college at UC Davis, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m “beating the odds”… that next year, I’ll be part of that 4 percent of foster youth who graduate with a degree. I didn’t do it all on my own though. I had the support of my teammates, my coach and a high school world history teacher who eventually became vice principle. I had to disclose to him that I was in foster care after I missed an important test due to a court date. Ironically, I missed a lot of school so that I could advocate on my own behalf in court and fight for my right to stay at the high school where I was enrolled. When he became vice principle, he helped me navigate experiences unique to foster youth in high school. For example, when I had too many excused absences due to home changes or court appearances, he helped talk to the district to remove the threat of expulsion (I was threatened with expulsion twice!).
I also believe a big part of me “beating the odds” is me. It takes hardcore perseverance and determination to hold your ground in court as a teenager while also trying to proactively figure out solutions to avoid having to change schools… all the while having to keep my grades up to stay on the varsity volleyball team. As a foster youth, I’m used to problem solving. Challenges are my everyday life. But that’s okay. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get my education.
My next challenge? I do not know how I will afford law school. I’m still trying to figure out how to afford the LSAT prep courses. #FosterMyEducation #FosterTruth
When I was little, I wanted to be a lawyer. I used to love watching Matlock on TV. I thought it was so cool how he would discover the truth by the end of each episode. I had no idea that someday, I’d be selling drugs and getting my G.E.D. at Rikers. I grew up in foster care. I was born with crack cocaine in my system, so I got placed in foster care as a baby. Like most kids in care, I got bounced around from home to home and school to school. I went to over 10 schools, and all that school transferring made me get held back in third and ninth grades. The day I turned to the streets though was when I was 15 years old. I asked my foster mom if she could help buy me football equipment for school. I was into sports and wanted to join the high school football team. But my foster mom said no. She was an addict, and every dollar she received to care for me went straight to her buying angel dust. That day, I realized that if I needed or wanted something, I’d have to find my own way of getting it. I couldn’t depend on anyone – not my birth mom, not my foster mom and not the system – to help me do the things that every kid gets to do. So I turned to the streets to make my own money. It was a stupid decision.” #FosterMyEducation #FosterTruth
Calling all foster care alumni! Children’s Rights is now accepting submissions for its 5th annual Fostering the Future campaign, which is set to launch May 1st in honor of National Foster Care Awareness Month. This year’s theme is the state of education in foster care. Here’s your chance to speak your truth, educate the nation […]
President Trump’s executive order to temporarily restrict immigration and bar refugees from entering the U.S stands to have a vast, detrimental impact on millions of children domestically and across the globe. Children’s Rights adamantly opposes the immigration order and the limits placed upon refugees entering the U.S. in search of asylum. The decision puts our […]
Members of Congress announced plans this week to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a move that could have a significant, detrimental impact on health care for abused and neglected kids, youth in foster care and their birth, adoptive and foster parents, as well as state agencies and providers. Children’s Rights is urging Congress […]
Children’s Rights played a leading role at the 39th National Child Welfare, Juvenile and Family Law Conference in Philadelphia this past weekend.
Technology is radically changing how we live our lives on a daily basis – but when it comes to foster care systems, we’re lagging far behind. At a first-of-its kind event, some of the biggest minds in child welfare and technology, including CR’s own litigation director Ira Lustbader, and representatives from organizations like the Administration […]