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.
If 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.
If 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.
Don’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.
Be 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.)
Remember 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.
“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)
Getting 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.
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.