Foster Kid Phoenix

Foster Care sucks & I survived.

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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 stuff – 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 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. 🙂



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 mess 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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sign on to your life

It’s nearly 1 am — I should have been asleep an hour ago, but C and I stayed up talking for a long time. We were talking about our (broken) families, sharing both happy and sad memories with each other. Sometimes it feels weird to get so deep with a person – “I didn’t mean to turn this into therapy” – but it’s starting to feel more natural. We heal when we open up, and we’ve both had deep dark secrets and parts of our minds that we don’t dare venture into. I’m certainly not ready to open the floodgates, but the more we know about each other, the closer I feel.

I’m not afraid of him hurting me with any information I give him.. which is huge. Maybe part of that is my growth, but really he’s an exceptionally kind, patient man. He’s been hurt badly too, so we get each other.

We were just about to go to sleep when we heard a LOUD SCARY GUNSHOT. It was super close to our apartment complex — which is rare. We live in a notoriously seedy town, but we live in the nicest part of it. (It’s still a dilapidated ghetto, but it’s not as bad as it is over the freeway!)

And I can’t help but be really sad. There are so many young children and sweet families in my complex. Do the mothers live in fear? What do the children think of the violence? They must know about it.. you can’t stay blissfully ignorant/innocent for long when you’re poor and live in the hood.

But the families keep living their lives. There are always children playing on the stairs, around the building. Almost all the doorsteps have plants in front of them. I think sometimes, the less you have, the more you appreciate the little things. If you live in a dangerous neighborhood, you can either stay indoors all the time and live in fear of getting shot, or you can surround yourself with laughter and music and green plants. You’re going to die either way. You can hide from death for years, and you’ll still die, you’ll have nothing to show for it.

Whatever I’ve been hiding from off and on for years — a fear of messng up, a fear of trusting the wrong person, a fear of dying on the streets, of an overdose, or laying in a coma for years like my bio-mom.. those fears could stop me from living, but they won’t stop me from dying.

Anything can happen when you take that leap.

And so, I took the leap. I’m starting to feel settled into my new home.. feeling more and more comfortable living with C. Baby steps. I’ve never had peace, tranquility, company, and love so close to my heart. The more I let go of my fear, the more I realize, I’ve nothing to fear.

I’ve never had a blog like this before.. I’m excited though, because I rant everyone’s ear off around me and now I have a place where I’m actually expected to rant. I’m not sure if anyone will read this, or if my entries suck, but I’m enjoying this so it doesn’t matter. In case anyone does happen to stumble upon this blog, I’m going to give a little into to me and what I hope will become of this blog.

1) I can be awkward. I can be outspoken and loud and sweet and soft and polite. I can do all these things, and many more, because I am a human being and therefore don’t fit into boxes.  I’m a real person, so please remember that while reading and commenting.

2) I’m in my early twenties, and I’m a girl, a lady, and a woman. I still feel like a kid sometimes. Other times I feel like I’m fifty. I’m a brand new community college student — I just finished my first semester, and I STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN MY GRADES YET!!! YAHRG! I attempted college a few times, but I’ve been too preoccupied getting my life and head in order to focus on school. So, completing a semester and committing to school is a huge milestone for someone who never thought she’d be able to get out of bed and face class on an anxiety day.

3) I was really badly neglected, isolated, and abused until I was 12. When I finally got taken away by CPS, I was really, really damaged goods so I lived in group homes almost exclusively. Group homes are no joke – it’s like jail for kids, doing time for their parent’s crime. My emotional/social growth was totally stunted as a result, and I’ve had quite a rough time figuring out who I am and how to act since I emancipated.

4) I just moved in with my boyfriend. We have a really healthy relationship, which is incredible considering all we’ve been through in our lives. I feel like I’m learning how to be in a family for the first time, which is really powerful and scary and exciting. 


Learning to Be Loved

One thing that I learned, in my childhood and in foster care, is that I am unlovable. Outing this belief as a lie has been a slow, painful process..

As a young child, my stepfather was verbally, physically, and psychologically abusive. The only time he would talk to me was to yell at me. My mother cared about me, but did not do a good job of protecting me. I was often left alone to fend for and entertain myself. I would cry hysterically a lot of the time.  I was too young to understand that I was just very distressed and lonely, so I believed what I was told — I was bad.

When I was taken away and placed in the system, I was told by a social worker that I was abused and neglected — but it didn’t register that this wasn’t my fault.  Following my removal was a string of failed placements and group homes which reinforced my idea that I was stupid, worthless, I even thought I was evil. I hadn’t had the time to get to know myself and my emotions before entering the world of group homes, and all their unwritten rules. For every minor violation that I was punished for, my shame and self-resentment grew.

While I had some caring people in my life, there was no constant contact to heal my wounds. The kind souls were beacons of light,  but that light couldn’t reach the darkest parts of me. Also, since I didn’t recognize that my self-hatred was a problem, I didn’t see an alternative.

When I emancipated, my low self-worth put a strain on my social life. I quickly made acquaintances who were outside of the system, but they did not understand my extreme pain, my unique and challenging circumstances, and would often write me off as “crazy” or “weird”. I had a live in boyfriend for a while who antagonized me. He was constantly trying to change me, and would tell me that I was pathetic, and yes, unlovable. After he pushed me to tears, he would tell me that I was ugly when I cried. I confided in him still, and believed that he was hurting me because I deserved it. I’d never felt so low. When he used me all up, he moved back to his home state.  I was in and out of the hospital for suicide attempts and desperately lonely. Completely drained, completely depleted, and feeling completely alone. I wanted to die because I didn’t see any way to continue life like this.

It started to change for me when a woman moved next door to me… let’s call her The Golden Goddess. I heard her crying — and if there’s one thing I know, it’s the feeling of gut-wrenching agony — so I wrote her a little note and left it on her doorstep with a My Little Pony doll. I didn’t think anything of it, but later she said it “gave her hope”. We got close and talked a lot. She listened to me cry and, instead of giving me advice or telling me to “suck it up and stop wallowing”, actually validated my experience. She shared my pain with me, and eventually these loving interactions started transforming me. I began to see myself, slowly. I saw my caring, gentle spirit and began to feel sad that I would be so mean to myself. I still had tons of baggage and still physically hurt myself, but there was a crack in the fortress I’d built around my heart, and the light started to pour in.

I still felt very sad and pitiful because I didn’t have many friends my age to go out and have fun with. I craved a community so badly. I thought I was weird and that nobody would ever want to be my friend, but The Golden Goddess kept telling me that I would find my niche – maybe, because of my experiences, I won’t fit in with just any group, but there were friends out there waiting to meet me. I didn’t believe her.. but I appreciated her telling me that it wasn’t my fault that I had a hard time making friends.

Last summer, I finally met my niche. A girl who I am no longer friends with (drama, save it for another post) introduced me to her friends, who I hit it off with. I felt like I could converse easily with them, not the strained, walking-on-eggshells conversations I was used to having with people. We slowly started hanging out more and more. It was the first time I’d experienced a consistent group of activity buddies, and it excited me.

I started spending time with this one guy in the group.. let’s call him C. We had amazing, heady conversations and he really loved his friends, which I appreciated – I was so used to shady people who used their “friends” to meet their needs. One night, we confessed that we liked each other. I was scared! I was tempted to run the other direction, This confused me.. eventually I recognized that I wasn’t used to respectful, kind men being interested in me. Or really, anybody being interested in me – merely being interested in what they could get from me. I didn’t think he would hurt me, but something felt unsettling, the notion of trusting another person and letting them get that close to me. I’d done a lot of work on healing myself, but I had left the relationship portion untouched because — well, I didn’t think I’d ever be with a man. (Or, realistically, a woman – I just assumed I was “undateable” too)

Eventually my fondness for him overcame my fear, and we started dating. Our anniversary is 11/11! It’s been wonderful, and it’s the best decision I’ve made so far. Sometimes, it’s hard. He appreciates my love, which is something new for me. He shows me that he loves me, rather than just telling me.  Although he tells me too, and often. He is infinitely patient with me. I was terrified of losing him, but I am less worried about that now, because I’ve learned that the things other people abandoned me for, don’t make me unlovable.  People can be awful, and for some reason I’ve had a lot of awful people in my life. What people did to me are not things that people who love each other do. As I’m allowing his love into my heart, I find myself healing. I’m beginning to accept that I have a good heart, am a good person, and am deserving of love. And, unlike other people and programs, he doesn’t get angry at me when I get down on myself, or feel anxious. As he says, “I’ll always remind you if you forget.”

It would be incredible if all foster children and hurt kids had people, early on, to counter that toxic shame and pain that can eat away at our lives. The system doesn’t do enough to ensure that the most basic need – affection – is provided to children in care. Thankfully, there is hope.. there are caring people out there, waiting to love us, and show us that it’s okay to love ourselves too.


after-care services need to be a priority!

I was lucky. I was born in, and made dependent of, a county that has a contract with a really, really good wraparound program for emancipated foster youth. For the past 5 years, I have received therapy from a very kind clinician, been supported in finding housing, and given access to respectful psychiatrists who listened to my concerns and were always happy to let me try coming off meds. I have a full team of adults who genuinely care for me and my future. It feels more like a family, not at all like the faceless case-shuffling I experienced in foster care. I have been able to heal so much from their support – there is still stress involving money, education, and my trauma, but having a stable support system has allowed me to grow and learn about myself and the world.

I know that not everyone gets this opportunity, and that’s a huge issue. Now, I have hopes and dreams and goals, whereas before, when I was exiting foster care, I didn’t think I was good enough to have dreams. I have friends that I’ve made myself, aided by years of weekly intensive therapy (by the same clinician who I trust) to overcome my attachment issues. Plainly, if I didn’t have aftercare, I’d likely be on the street, maybe pregnant or drug addicted or dead.

Why doesn’t everyone have access to these services? Why do so many of us go through hell, just to find more closed doors and strange faces? Before, we may have been locked behind closed doors, then we turn 18 and are locked out of them.

We need more compassion, for sure. But even from a purely economic position – if we’re afraid to fund aftercare services because our states and federal government can’t afford it, imagine how much more money is being drained by creating adults totally dependent on the system, relying on “handouts” and shelters to survive.

Not to mention, the cycle is likely to repeat itself – if a mother is unable to support herself and her child, they enter the child welfare system again. By failing to provide services to aging out foster youth, we’re creating new foster kids!

It makes sense to invest in our future economy by offering comprehensive services to TAY. But, shame all the same for putting a dollar sign on a human life. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Why would we take a child from their home, claiming to care about the child’s welfare, only to throw then back in the street as adults? Are we really that messed up as a society? Do we really care?

After care is a need, not a privilege. It should be a right.

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the little things: county cars

Those infamous county cars and vans.

If you’ve been in foster care, you know what I mean. They sent a T.O. to pick me up from school one day when I was at the receiving home*. I hid from the van because I didn’t want my classmates to see me.

Of course, I was considered “AWOL” for that, and none of the staff understood why I was so mortified to be seen in that monstrosity. Have you ever tried to explain to a group of middle school bullies why a freakin’ Ford Escort with a COUNTY SEAL picks you up from school every day? Good luck with that one.

When I was old and sent to the county’s Unwanted Kids Facility, I got to go on outings in a county van. We were riding around in STYLE! It was big, it was white, and it stopped at all railroad crossings.

Nobody wanted shotgun.

*receiving home = a county shelter for foster youth who are in between placements