I went into foster care when I was 10. After being abused and neglected, I wanted to be loved and adopted, but things rarely work out the way we hope. Foster care was a whole new world. I went from feeling invisible to being in a place where people were hyper aware of where I was and what I was doing. It all made me extremely anxious. I searched every facial expression, word and body movement for signs of approval. I was consumed with the thought that if I could prove I was smart or helpful, then I would be wanted and kept.
But instead, I bounced around 26 times in the system. Mostly, I was moved because of behavior. I was in the gifted program, and was sweet and affectionate, but thanks to the trauma I experienced, I could also be smart-mouthed, manipulative and emotionally demanding. I was the kid who yelled, “You can’t touch me! I’m a foster child!” It never sat well.
I always wanted someone who wouldn’t give up on me. I wanted to lay it all out, and have someone say, “You are okay! I still love and want you!” But people gave up easily, and I learned to hide and be a chameleon. If they couldn’t handle the “edges” of me, I was certain they couldn’t handle the core.
My last stop was a children’s home. At first, I excelled in a rule-driven environment with clear boundaries. I learned what was expected of me and enjoyed the privileges associated with being good. But I also knew that being there meant I was no longer family material, and I felt like I was unworthy of love, like I was too lost to be saved. I began cutting and thought about dying more than living.
Ultimately I didn’t trust that the system had my best interests at heart, so I filed for emancipation and it was granted when I was 17. I thought this was the end of my journey, but it was actually the beginning. I was sexually abused by a trusted female friend, married and divorced, had a child out of wedlock, lost a child in utero, had trouble staying employed and dropped out of semester after semester of college. I feared I was mentally ill, and I overdosed and nearly lost my life.
But I was determined that life would be different for my daughter. It took a long time, but healing came. I graduated after 11 years with my Bachelor’s degree and went on to obtain my child welfare license to work with specialized foster children. I became a foster parent and took a child into my home who virtually mirrored my own struggles. It helped me realize how hard it is to reach a child in the midst of the storm and to deal with trauma-related behaviors. But by offering my foster daughter what I always needed, it was like I offered it to myself. It has been amazingly redemptive.
The system is a necessary evil. We hear horror stories of kids who have fallen through the cracks. In many ways I feel I was one of them, but I know I fared better in care than I would have out of it. I had food and shelter. I was healthier and had access to dental and eye care. I was able to attend school regularly. I moved often and struggled emotionally, but I wasn’t beaten or sexually abused.
There are things that need to change in foster care. There’s a need for more quality foster and adoptive parents, workers who are supported so they don’t burn out and programs for youth aging out. But there are also amazing people involved at every level who have dedicated their lives to the kids. And in the 20 years since I have been in care, I do see that strides are being made.
If someone asked me today what my greatest accomplishment in life has been, I would say, “I broke the cycle!” It was breathtakingly hard. I almost didn’t make it. Now I am married and have four beautiful children. I never dreamed life could be this good. As life goes on, I learn more and more what an accomplishment that truly is … and in it, I continue to heal.
I would tell those in foster care what I tell my daughter, whom we are currently adopting: “Nothing about what you have been through is fair or your fault. As with anything we go through, we have a choice about whether our experiences will win or we will! It’s worth the fight!” Beauty can come from ashes and a time can come where you honestly become thankful for what you’ve been through and survived.
Published on May 9, 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.