Foster Kid Phoenix

Foster Care sucks & I survived.


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another blogger’s perspective on THE FOSTERS (possible but unlikely spoiler alert??)

When the ABC Family show The Fosters first came out, it seemed everyone was talking about it. Inter-racial same sex relationships with adopted kids AND foster kids! And one of the moms is a cop?! Such a striking comparison to what we currently see on television.  Finally, some diversity that matches what the REAL WORLD LOOKS LIKE. And, of course, as a former foster youth I’m always interested in seeing us represented on TV. Not only do I want to relate to a character for a change, but it will obviously provide the populous with a view into our reality.

For this same reason, I was a bit wary. What if The Fosters  perpetuates negative stereotypes? Foster youth don’t need any more bad press. On the other hand, it could provide some real insight into what life is like for us. With these concerns in mind, I watched the pilot episode a few months ago. I was initially turned off. It seemed unrealistic. Look at these angelic foster parents, they are so good and so selfless. Look at this miserable stray child, she is so dark and negative. Who goes to school on a BEACH? (And, to be fair, I was triggered by the “real kid” – “temp kid” relationships!) I didn’t give the show a fair chance. 

A friend of mine, another foster alumna/advocate, urged me to watch the show again. She reminded me that I didn’t watch enough of the show to get a good sense of what was really going on. So when I got home tonight, I decided to pull it up on Netflix and watch. I’m glad I did, because I have a new opinion on the show.

It’s incredible.

I was talking to my boyfriend after finishing the fourth episode, and we realized that the dynamic between the moms and their clan seemed too good to be true, because we didn’t have parents who treated us lovingly or gave us the time of day. But this is what good parenting looks like, and it’s nice to be able to see an example of it. The characters are in no way perfect – they face problems that real people go through. But they don’t expect each other to be perfect, and they love unconditionally. I’m certainly learning some important life tips for when I one day become a foster parent myself.

I’m also impressed by the portrayal of siblings in foster care – it’s something we’ve been talking about a lot in CYC. (And, as of today’s Advisory Board meeting, the topic of our recommendation for the Day At The Capitol conference!) I never had siblings who were in foster care, but I do have sisters and a brother who I love dearly, so I can certainly sympathize. In the pilot episode, Callie gets out of juvie and has one mission – to see “Jude”, who I thought would be a skeezy boyfriend but turned out to be her brother. She risked her life (and the life of her foster brother – oops.) to make sure that her little brother, who was staying in an abusive foster home while she was locked away, was okay. In a perfect world, no siblings should be separated from each other, under any circumstances – and in a even more perfect world, no sister should have to go to juvenile hall for protecting her little brother. Sadly, this world is not yet perfect, and it’s important people are aware of what really goes on in the system.

Another thing I’m grateful for is that the writers of this show are not blind to the harsh treatment that fosters can receive from “normal” kids who don’t understand what they’ve gone through. It’s frustrating to see the way the other students at the fancy-pants charter school treat Callie, based on their stupid presumptions. But it’s real. It happens, and it sucks. Hopefully some people are watching this and realizing it’s hard to be the Callies and Judes of the world, and that they deserve kindness and respect.

I’m excited to watch more! I’m curious to see what other hidden facets of the foster care system (and foster parenting, which I know very little about) are uncovered. And — who is this Liam character?


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what is foster care & why is it an issue?

Hey folks, it’s been a while since I’ve posted! Eep! I haven’t forgotten about this blog, I’ve just been busy with school and life and emotions.

I’m still deciding if I should create a posting schedule or not, but in the mean time, please know that this blog will never be abandoned, even if there haven’t been recent posts for a while. If you want to stay in the loop with my erratic posting schedule, please follow my blog! (If you already are, thank you so so much! I never expected to have a single reader, so I appreciate all of you and your lovely comments!)

Anywhoo, tonight I’ll be sharing an essay that I wrote for my Health Science class last Spring. I put a lot of work into it, so I decided to recycle it for an audience slightly larger than my professor! I’m sure many if not most of the folks reading this blog will know this information already… but if anyone stumbles upon my blog who doesn’t know much about foster care, this is for you. :)

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Sometimes, we have to learn the hard way: what I wish I knew when I turned 18

Even though I had support leaving the system, a lot was left for me to figure out. Here’s my list of things I wish I knew right before I left the system, but didn’t know until it was too late. My list is tailored to the state I live (California), and only contains what I’ve learned up to now (I’m twenty-three).

I love my life now, even though it is not without difficulties (many caused by the oversights reflected upon in this list). Certainly making better decisions during my early years of adulthood would have changed the course of my life to this point. For better or worse, who’s to say? Still, it would have been nice to know  what I’d be sort-of-regretting years down the line. Maybe I would have been able to make more informed decisions rather than  impulsive ones.

I like the idea of these lists, & think it would be extraordinarily helpful to collect several of them (with permission of course) and send them to freshly-emancipated foster folks.

STARBUL1If you don’t take advantage of “limited-time offers”, such as the CHAFEE grant or Denti-Cal benefits (kinda useful for getting cavities filled and wisdom teeth extracted!) you will lose them and you might miss them. 

starbul2If you have the opportunity to be in a great transitional housing program, but feel stifled by the restrictions/curfew/housemates, remember that these programs are short term.  It’s not forever, and anything is bearable temporarily. (Remember the subtitle of this blog? Foster care sucked.. and I survived.) It’s hard when you just gained your freedom, especially if you came from group homes (zero to ten much?), but you’ll have plenty of time to fly without a net soon enough! Focus on the goal: learning independent living skills. Get as much as you can from the program. 

STARBUL1Don’t count on the adults in your life to give you guidance unless you ask for it. You’re an adult, you are responsible for your own decisions. That responsibility comes abruptly, so ask for honest advice from people you trust before making any big decisions. You may not have the foresight to see how a decision could alter the course of your life.

starbul2Twenty-one sneaks up on you from behind.

STARBUL1Twenty-four comes even faster. I think there must be some truth to that whole “time keeps moving faster as you get older” thing.

starbul2Be active in your local foster-youth advocacy group, if you have one in your area. (California Youth Connection is age-capped at 24 and now that I’ve gotten thoroughly involved, I’m bummed that I missed out on so many years of conferences and meetings. I can’t help but wonder who I would be now, if I was more active earlier on. Probably a lot more confident and driven.)

STARBUL1Never underestimate the power of weighing the pros and cons of taking an action.

starbul2Remember that mistakes are not barriers to success, they are bridges. Don’t waste time mentally kicking yourself in the rear for all the opportunities you’ve watched pass you by. Learn what you can and be ready next time. Sometimes, this is just how we learn.

STARBUL1“Mm, there’s been some rough times…but the important thing…is to, um, you have to face your problems… and you should never ever, ever, ever… ever, ever give up. Never ever, ever, ever . Winston Churchill said that… I think.” -Dennis, from the movie Martian Child (a sweet movie about a foster kid who thinks he’s a martian)

starbul2Getting wasted with your friends constantly is fun until you realize that you can’t remember those years of your life because they have been lost in a haze. Also, be careful if you decide to experiment with drugs and/or alcohol. Nobody can stop you if you’re going to, but be safe.

STARBUL1It’s much harder to come off the streets than it is to end up there.

SIDENOTE: AB12 is probably great because I made much better decisions at twenty-one than eighteen. At eighteen I was a teenager, by twenty-one I was an adult. Glad to see this is recognized & now a thing.


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tears of joy

This post is inspired by  the “What Foster Care Feels Like” gallery at Foster Focus Magazine dedicated to all the current and former foster youth, and especially to California Youth Connection – because you have given me a family, a community, belief in the power of change, and a reason to continue growing.

I’ve cried pleading tears of desperation,
hot angry tears that got me consequences and never consolation,
confused lost child tears in the padded walls of a group home quiet room,
sobbing heaving tears echoing through the empty halls of my first apartment,
and the dry-eyed, straight-faced tears that nobody outside my mind could see.

I didn’t know tears could also come from joy.
understanding that all the pain I’ve felt,
the pain which can not be named
of a past that I could hardly make sense of
is not a burden to hold quietly in my chest.
it is a pain shared by countless generations of kids
young, grown, deceased and yet to be born.

What I can not explain to those blessed by their upbringing
I need not explain to my brothers and sisters who have walked this path.

And finally, I know
that in my loneliness,
I was never alone.

I give my pain a new shape -
to lovingly mold my experience into something that can be used,
something that can grow wings and touch hearts.

These are tears of joy.

 


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depression, trauma, and our beautiful souls

We need to create our own narratives, our own self-help phrases and affirmations, directed at our own souls and paths. Those of us who have survived traumatic abuse don’t have it easy. What might work for those blessed with healthy, loving foundations probably won’t work for us who were brought up to believe that we are weak and inherently flawed.

We can’t give up hope. We must allow ourselves to cultivate hope. Just because the answers aren’t on the table yet doesn’t mean they’ll never be found.

I’ve been struggling a lot this past few weeks. For a while I felt on top of my shit – believing that I have what it takes to make my dreams come true. I believed I was a valuable asset to my community, just waiting for the right opportunity to shake it up and make some changes around here.

Now, I’m not so sure. I’m having a hard time getting out of bed, I am second guessing everything that comes out of my mouth or flows through my head. I have no idea why, or how, I fell so low. Depression sure is tricky. It obscures the truth, and worse yet, makes it easy to believe the lies. Sometimes I can see a little more clearly, but then it becomes a whole new battle – “why am I still feeling this way? What’s wrong with me?” 

On one hand – yes, I have survived years of abuse, being told by the people who were supposed to care for me that I am bad, evil, worthless and should have never been born. But I should know better by now, right? After all, I have plenty of good qualities. I’ve even started a journal, recommended by my therapist, to record positive moments and nice things people have said about me.

Why won’t it sink it?

When I start feeling this way, as hard as it is, I need to step back and remind myself how much shit I’ve been through. I often compare myself to others, others who were lucky enough to grow up in peaceful, supportive families. That’s not fair. I’m not going to be where they are. 

I also compare myself to other foster kids.. but I’m realizing something. Just because, on the outside, people seem like they have it all together – doesn’t mean they don’t cry themselves to sleep at night. We’re all infinitely more complex than it would appear at first glance. 

I’m not sure when I’m going to start feeling better, or if I’ll ever be completely healed from my pain and free of my conditioning. But I’m going to keep on living, learning, trying to navigate the tangles of my mind. If I give up, I know for sure that I will be miserable.

When I break my suffering down to one goal, it seems much more achievable.

 

I don’t need to try and be a better person. I don’t need to change anything about myself. Right now, I just need to learn to see the person I am. Free of the nagging words of my abusers, free of crippling self-doubts.

I’ve caught glimpses of her – my true self. I like that person. I’m not very nice to her.. but.. someday, I hope to have a good relationship with her, and get to live with her full-time. :)


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we want you to be real with us.

I just read a story written by Ms. Helen Ramaglia for the Chronicle of Social Change opinion blog on the Healing Effects of Alumni in the Lives of Foster Children. In her post, Ms. Ramaglia, a foster care alumna, talks about her almost painful need to help her brothers and sisters still in care. She holds a workshop at a foster care success conference, and finds that the youth do not want to engage with her, and do not respect her. They were asking her questions about her life, but unwilling to speak about their own pain and hopes. After the session, she asked the kids what she should have done differently.

Their response – be more real.

Why share their pain with me if I wasn’t willing to share my pain with them? They said I had to earn their trust, their respect. They used the word “raw” and I started to get a little scared.

They were demanding I deliver the goods. They needed to know that I was going to be able to ‘understand’ their pain before they shared.

I remember that when I was in foster care, none of the adults seemed to understand me. I was expected to open up to therapists, social workers, and day staff, but it was hard to trust them. Even when I did develop trust with a person, there was a level of disconnect. The pain of being a forgotten child, a societal misfit, is so real, so acute, and it deepens when you feel that the people paid to care for you will never understand. If they did understand, maybe there would be less foster youth in juvenile detention centers, less youth in psych wards. More hugs, more love.

Now that I am outside of the system, I’ve learned that many people come back to work with foster youth after leaving care themselves. Two of the staff at my last group home were former foster youth. There might have been – probably were – many more former fosters that I came into contact with during my time in care. These people, if their hearts are in the right place, are the greatest asset to the system. There are also plenty of people with really big hearts and really bright smiles who may not have had personal experience in care, but I could tell fought with their own demons. Those are the people who I could have looked up to. Those are the people I would have loved to learn more about.

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nothing about us, without us.

For this post, I’d like to talk about something very dear to my heart, and important for all foster youth and allies —  advocacy.

As a child growing up in the foster care system, I felt alienated and misunderstood.

Alienated because there is very little known about foster care outside of foster care. There were so many times growing up where I felt humiliated and ashamed of my fate. From being surrounded by group home staff at the movie theater to trying to come up with an excuse as to why I couldn’t hang out with a friend from my public school, being in county care is like being a perpetual outsider.

I felt misunderstood because every time I tried to speak up for myself, I was labeled as “uncooperative” or even “manipulative“. These labels, of course, followed me through my teenage years, from placement to placement, and made self-advocacy more difficult.

I first came into contact with California Youth Connection when I was 17. I attended an Independent Living Skills class occasionally – when my homes allowed me that “privilege” – and directly after the class, was the chapter meeting for my county. I didn’t pay too close attention in those days, it was just an excuse to stay away from the shelter for longer. But the name always stuck out in my head, and for the years following my emancipation I did a dance with my local chapter, dropping in and out of membership.

California Youth Connection is a movement. Officially, we are “dedicated to youth empowerment, youth development, and policy advocacy”. My crude description is, we are a group of current and former foster youth who have open hearts, sharp minds, and loud mouths. Basically, we’re fighting for our rights, fighting for the rights of future generations.

CYC began in 1988 and in that time, has influenced major change in the state of California. Some of these accomplishments came into my life, even though I wasn’t aware CYC was behind them — institutions like the Foster Care Ombudsman and the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. Others greatly increased my chance of survival outside of the system, such as the Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) extension.  Our most recent success was the passing of AB 12, which allows youth in care the option to stay until 21.

I dropped in and out of CYC because getting my life on track after care was a full-time job. I was all but stripped of my sense of self – or never allowed to discover it – and I needed a few years to fuck up, to explore, to cry and flail. I was still very angry. I tried to get as far as humanly possible from the system. But, as with any parent, you can’t get too far because they created you. For better or for worse, we are a product of our upbringing, at least until we consciously decide to change that. While in therapy, I learned that a lot of my grief comes from being in the system.

This felt like revelations at first  – “You mean I’m not crazy? Just hurt?” – then it became a sort of quiet, dry rage. My anger at the system had always been confused and repressed. I’m not sure where I would have been without the system, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been pretty. Foster care made me who I am today. It might have, in all honestly, saved my life. On the other hand, I was marginalized and deprived of the opportunities I needed to grow into a healthy adult. Eventually I became an advocate for my local youth in an aftercare program, but I constantly craved a more substantial outlet for my rage and love.. so I remembered CYC.

My local CYC chapter is small, but growing. Small, but passionate. For the first time in my life, I felt that my voice was heard and respected. I was surrounded by people – strong, empowered people – who had felt that pain, been through what I’ve been through – and lived to fight back.

I’m so glad that California has CYC. I wish every state had a version of it. It’s amazing to know that we have certain rights as foster youth in California because YOUTH DEMANDED IT.

We can’t take back our childhoods and we can’t go back in time to make the system perfect for us. But, we can leave a lasting legacy for the next generation of foster youth.. and, as long as these organizations continue running, that generation can affect change for the next.. and so forth..

To the foster kids before me who paved the way for a brighter future: Thank you, thank you, thank you for fighting for us.

To the future leaders of CYC: remember, no fight is too hard for us to win. We’ve been through immense battles in our young years. The future kids in care depend on us – on you – to own your experiences, good and bad, and use them as fuel to change the system.

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