Foster Kid Phoenix

Foster Care sucks & I survived.


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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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group homes, mental stupefication with a clipboard

Because I was all messed up in the head from having a broken family, I got to live in a group home! It’s like a perpetual sleepover with all of your best friends, only not really. Group homes are like a twisted combination between a psych ward, jail, and boot camp.

Everybody is young, angry, hurt, and bored out of their minds. We weren’t allowed to go outside unless it was part of the structured activity.

Because apparently cold routine is the best way to help kids without families heal from their trauma.

Just kidding, nobody else would take us, so they herd us together and try to keep us sedated and occupied.

Yes, group home life was full of structure. We are awoken to the lovely sounds of a power-tripping staff with a clipboard screaming “Lights on!” The clipboard, of course, is the cattle prod. Our entire lives are written out on a score sheet, and if we slip up, we loose points. If we don’t make enough points, our day is gonna suck hard. If you don’t jump right out of bed, you’ve already lost 3 points.

If you have an A.M. shower, make sure to ask staff for your hygiene products – the staff will squeeze out your shampoo rations in a dixie cup, because we all know you crazy kids are going to eat the shampoo if we don’t lock it up. Did you spend too long in the shower? Sorry kiddo, you lost your hygiene points for this morning. Don’t worry, there’s always tomorrow.

For breakfast, we’re having cold cereal and fruit cocktail. And your med cocktail, when the staff calls your name. You know the routine – tongue your cheek, stick out your tongue, and blow. We can’t have our children running around unmedicated now, can we?

You have 25 minutes for breakfast, and you have to eat all of it. No, you may not be excused, because we need to do our morning check-in. Tell your peers how you are feeling, with a word and a number between 1-10. “Harry, you’ve chosen 42 and discontent for the past week, and staff thinks that’s inappropriate.” (Harry walks away from the table and sits in his room. The lead staff smirks to nobody in particular, “He’s losing points as we speak.”)

Now it’s time for school! Today we’re reading the newspaper and writing an article on current events. Don’t worry, the expectations aren’t very high here. We join in a circle and share our regurgitated news items. It takes the rest of the period, because half of the class of six can’t read very well, which is no fault of their own. There’s no real curriculum, and the students range from 12-17, and nobody really cares as long as you’re not acting up, so you spend the rest of the period daydreaming and reading out of an old economics textbook.

Are you too bored to continue reading this? Don’t be shy to say so. I’m too bored to continue writing it, and I’m only halfway through the day. I lived through this day hundreds of times, over and over. Rinse and repeat.

The most exciting thing that happened, is one time, a girl jumped on the roof at midnight.

Sometimes, foster kids act up because we had really sad childhoods and have attachment issues from being shuffled around so damn much, and don’t know how to deal with crippling emotions.

Other times, we acted up because we felt hopeless and bored to death with our seemingly-endless jail sentence, AKA our lives. All I really wanted to do was run around in the sunshine, maybe go on a roller coaster or eat a hot dog on the beach. Some of us just wanted to hang out with our friends and be teenagers. Mess up without having a clipboard waved in your face. Go to the mall, see a crappy movie.

But we couldn’t. We were prisoners of the state, and until we turned 18, or “graduated” from this “program” (just to be placed in another  group home) this was our fate.

Our crime?  Having really sad childhoods and crippling emotions that we didn’t know how to deal with.