Foster Kid Phoenix

Foster Care sucks & I survived.


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we’re not throwaway kids

they threw me into the world naked and I’m still learning how to deal

they take you from your broken home and break you down
kill your spirits and throw you to the wolves
left for dead,
crawling and crying and damn near dying
dead inside, lifeless eyes
but somehow we learn to walk
slowly on wobbly unsure limbs
we seek warmth but are too cold
wary and untrusting
we survive against the odds
and learn how to love


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the brighter side of foster care (&personal updates)

Hello, hello! Wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post on here. I don’t suppose that’s a terrible thing, though. I had a particularly busy and fascinating Winter Quarter (straight A’s again, high five!) and have been involved with several projects. I’ve been making art, crafting, reading and spending time with friends. I’ve also been planning a very big, exciting and intense change with my partner – we’re moving! He is going to a university, and I am itching to set my feet down on some new soil.

This is so exciting, because I am living in the same metro area that I was born, same area my mother was born, same county my case was first opened at.. the same county I emancipated in and began my adult journey in.

But, it’s time. I am ready for this change. I think back to all the times I was moved to unfamiliar locales by a social worker. Then, as a young adult, all the times I ached to get away from my hometown but wasn’t ready to leave the life I had painstakingly built for myself. It is now time, and I couldn’t be more proud of myself and those who helped me get to this point.

Reflecting on my life so far,  I can’t help but feel fortunate. Even though I have had my share of darkness and despair, things have seemed to turn out for the better. I have written a fair bit on the painful side of growing up in foster care – now, for a change of pace, here are some reasons I am grateful for this experience.

starbul2I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t taken out of my home. I don’t know if I would be alive right now. I also don’t know who I would be. My experiences have shaped me, and for better or for worse, I love who I am today.

STARBUL1I have met so many amazing and inspiring people. This obviously includes the tribe of former fosters that I consider my family, but also the allies who wore their hearts on their sleeves, the staff who trusted me, the social workers who believe in me.

starbul2I can go to school! I know several people who have not been in foster care, who can not afford to go to school. Some of these people even have families who are doing well enough to stay off the streets, but can not pay for their children’s education. I strongly believe that education is a right and that every single person on this planet should be able to receive an affordable education, but sadly that is not how this country is run. I am so grateful for my ability to attend classes and I know that being in foster care made this possible.

STARBUL1Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I have health care until I’m 26! Even if I was never in foster care, certain illnesses run in my family. And since I was in foster care, I have that PTSD beast to take care of. I am fortunate to live in a state that took the Medicaid extension. Health care is another basic human right that sadly, not everybody gets to enjoy. Thanks to my status as a former foster youth, I have access to health care.

starbul2The most important value to me is my ability to empathize/sympathize with people. I have a strong emotional connection with the suffering of others, probably because I have known suffering myself. And I am certainly aware that there are so many who suffered worse than me, and those who continue to. This drives my actions. I aim to be someone who others can find comfort in, and strive to help make the world a kinder place, however I can.

This is an inconclusive list, but it is good to keep in mind. As my dear friend pointed out this weekend, “You never realize how much foster care affects your live until you’re in your 20’s, trying to make it on your own.” This experience, I feel, never totally leaves us. We probably will never heal completely. But I want to remember that anything can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you view it.

Peace,
Phoenix


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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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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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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.