Why I Continue to Care about Foster Care

Many have said or asked in the past few years: The days within the system for me are long past. Today it is someone else’s problem. Why do I continue to care about what happens in the foster care system today?

Though some changes have been made to the system, it is still pretty much the same failed and broken system of my day. Thousands of children continue to have the innocence of their youth stolen from them. Many are doomed to a life a failure before their lives really have had a chance to get started.

I am of the firm belief, until former foster children regain the voice taken from them as a child and speak out, in whatever fashion they are comfortable, very little within the system of yesterday or today will change for the better. It has taken me years to recapture my voice…it will now not be silenced!

Yes, years have passed since my days within the foster care system. However, memories and reflections of those eighteen years still are at the forefront of my mind today. The trauma it caused so many times, though diminished somewhat in memory, remains in the depths of my soul.

No, they did not deter me from reaching goals in my life. I decided early on in life that they would not and went about seeing that it did not happen to me. It was, at many times, a hard and painful struggle. Despite what the system put me through…I made it!

I’ve reflected many times about my being a “paper bag boy.” Each move required me to pack my bag to take to the new home. In the 1950’s and 1960’s paper bags were used for this purpose. I remember how humiliating it was to place all your worldly possessions in a bag and still have room to spare.

Today “duffel bags” are used in may areas. Many feel this is an improvement. Yes, it is more dignified. However, one does not fully realize the damage done to a child emotionally each time he or she is told to pack their bag. Each move makes the child feel less and less of a person. One feels they are second-class and not worthy of a place they can truly call “home.” Being a “paper bag boy” damaged me but each of fourteen moves did far more damage. How can one ever justify fourteen moves by the age of eleven?

We kids, were supposed to adjust to what ever was thrown at us. Many are not in a good mental state of mind when they enter the system. We went to a strange facility, a strange family and on it goes. We could be moved at a drop of a hat and expected to adjust. Who helps us? Talks to us? Asks us “What is the problem?” No time for that! Just “put” us “somewhere”…”anywhere!” Yeah, sometimes they ask, but for the most part they just don’t care.

Foster care for teenagers is even harder to find. Issues with teenagers scare many foster parents. Teenagers sometimes run away or skip school. Foster parents often are reluctant to take on these problem children.

Adoptive parents are hard to find for older children, as I was to find out. One of the saddest things about this situation is we children realized we do not have a real family. We moved from foster parents to foster parents. This often means changing schools. Moving so frequently made it difficult to develop lasting friendships or to begin to know and trust our teachers.

School can be a scary place for foster children because we have moved so much. We longed for the stability most enjoyed as children. We wanted friends and a stable home life. Often we felt left out and different at school.

How can a society expect a child to grow up feeling good about themselves if every few months or years they find themselves being moved again. This is done with no explanation ever being given to the child. I considered myself a failure with no self-worth by the tender age of eleven. It would take five years to just partially overcome this feeling with the intervention of a few people who went out of their way to fully show they cared and felt I was worth saving.

I was one of the fortunate ones. With the help of a few, I was able to overcome, in time, the damage that had been done to me. Today there continues to be a constant flow of children aging out of the system who are not as fortunate as I was.

Each move also seemed to bring a new social worker along with it. It made me wonder why. Why did it seem person after person gave up on me? Why didn’t there seem to be a permanent placement in store for me? What was wrong with me? Did anyone really care? These are not the questions a young child should be asking themselves. The rapid turnover of social services caseworkers is one of the problems with foster care. After a few months, many change jobs. When a caseworker resigns, children can get lost. The stress of the caseworker job makes it hard to endure for very long.

>From what I have memories of, it seemed I was placed in decent foster homes in most instances. Maybe my memory has done me a favor by forgetting possible bad experiences. The one bad experience however has enough horrible memories that I don’t need others. However, as with society as a whole, one would expect to find a bad apple or two in the barrel.

Again, it was not the families, in most cases, that served as my foster parents that damaged me…it was the merry-go-round of moves themselves.

Though each of us are responsible for the decisions and actions we make in our lives and must bear the consequences of them, I wonder if, in many instances, those decisions or actions would have been different for many if it had not been for their foster care experiences.

One never fully leaves the system. It remains a part of you throughout your life. Much of it remains deep within us never to be revealed to others. We, many times, keep it inside so as not to have to relive the heartache and pains of our youth. But they still remain a part of us. It can play a role in our ability to have loving, trusting relationships with others. For many it plays a determining role in decisions that will affect them throughout their lives. Though we must each be held accountable for our decisions, I also feel society needs to also bear some of the accountability for those poor decisions.

Children are very fragile. They want to be loved so sadly that they will do whatever they are told just to cope. Inside they are dying. They are not able to form who they really are. How could they?

If you really want to know what a foster child thinks, look into their eyes, the story is right there.

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I JUST WANTED A HUG AND SOMEONE TO SMILE AT ME, LOOK ME IN THE FACE AND TELL ME I WAS WORTH SOMETHING AND I WAS GOING TO BE OK???

If society expects children to grow up to be mature, productive members of society, they then must see that each child is given the appropriate tools needed to achieve that goal. Instability caused by moves, inability to trust those responsible for your care only causes reaching the goal extremely more difficult if not almost impossible for some.

Another of the major problems with the foster care system is simple: an underlying premise that biological families are better than adoptive families. We must protect the family at any and all cost. Reunification is the priority goal whether it is in the best interest of the child or not. The biologicalparents have rights while the child who is being neglected, abused or abandoned has none. The children are left the voiceless and the forgotten.

I did not have a biological family to be returned to since I was given up at birth for adoption. Still the records show no real strong effort to have me adopted. When a family came for three different times to adopt me they were denied for reasons that were definitely not in my best interest. I am the rarity today of those placed in foster care… not the rule. Today, most are placed due to dysfunctional families who have either neglected, abused or abandoned in one fashion or another. A growing number of kids go into the foster care system and never get out. And the worst is the misperceptions of the foster care system and the belief that only bad kids end up in foster care.

Most people think of foster children as messed up ghetto kids who are looking for just the right benevolent parents who are willing to devote their lives to helping these special needs children.

This perception does explain the reason so many people who want to adopt normal children choose to spend their life savings for lawyers and private adoption agencies, rather than taking advantage of the immense adoption systems, set up and run by so many government agencies. However, that perception and subsequent reaction only creates more problems.

Every year, thousands of children are either abused or abandoned by their birth parents, (who are not really parents but merely womb donors and sperm donors) and subsequently end up in foster care. These are usually wonderful children who only need love and caring to have a fantastic and normal life.

Most children are in foster care absolutely through no fault of their own except being born to parents unable or unwilling to care for them in the fashion that they have the right to expect!

Yet the system seems to prefer biological reunion over adoption. Why else would they go to such extreme lengths to preserve these dysfunctional family units? Why else do judges willingly send children back to the Hell from which they came, over and over again? Why would normally sane people risk the lives of innocent children simply to keep children with their biological parents? Why would anyone think it healthy for a child to visit each week with the man who raped them, or the woman who held them in a scalding tub of water, or the parents who beat them to unconsciousness? The answer is simple: because biology is better than adoption. “Says Who!?”

Now, all we have to do is convince all the lawyers, judges, lawmakers, social workers, and therapists that their premise is indeed very, very false. Once we make a reality, the premise of the family court system to “Always do what is in the best interest of the child!”, we will be on our way to a sane and just foster care system. This is spoken of today as it has been for years. Ask the children in care and they will respond it, “It is a joke, a myth…not reality!

Imagine how many people would be willing to become foster parents if the system actually protected the children? People aren’t afraid fostering these children. People are afraid that they will be forced to send a child they love back into the arms of a monster. The question all judges should be asking themselves is this: “Would I let my own child spend the weekend with these people?” If the answer is “No,”then NO child should be sent to live there. Children’s lives should not be sacrificed just to maintain biological connections.

There are so many supposed legal rights of children with far too many loopholes. Then there are the legal rights of the parents…the system gives them too many chances to try to make it work and to better themselves and return to being a family. It takes time to go through rehab and I think it is pushed way too fast for the sake of time, money and looking good on the books.

Many children come into the system initially at an early age, and without the problems they have by the time they are finally (if ever) adopted. The longer they are in the system, the more problems they are likely to develop. Yet the length of time a child is in the system continues to get longer. The only thing they get better at is moving. Most foster children can pack everything they own in the world (toys, clothes, and all their worldly possessions) in today’s “paper bags,” and usually do on a regular basis.

The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. The more problems they have, the worse the reputation that foster care kids get. The worse the reputation foster kids have, the fewer the number of people who adopt them. The fewer people who adopt them, the longer kids have to stay in foster care. The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. And so on, and so on!

The problem with the foster care system is this vicious circle.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in family and the values of it. So if they can come back together, GREAT! But the time frame is not long enough, due to the systems restraints and the kids take the brunt end of it. There is way too much tolerance of the adults, who should know better, and of course some will say “Well, they were abused.” or “Well they should know better themselves.” This brings up the adult mental state of mind and another string of pros and cons.

So why do the kids take it in the shorts? Children are not punching bags and they do have feelings!!!

Children deserve a much greater protection under the law than adults because they are not capable of defending themselves. And yet, they receive exactly the opposite, less protection! Can you imagine a man beating his wife to within an inch of her life, and then a judge saying to this woman, “Well, since your husband has successfully completed ten weeks of counseling, I order you to live together again as a family unit. We must protect the family at all cost!” He would be removed from the bench. Yet, time and time again judges do this to children!

Social workers, lawmakers, judges or anyone in the position of making decisions regarding a child removed from their home need to ask the questions: “Would I let my own child spend the weekend with these people? Would I allow my own child to remain in this situation or be returned to this situation?” If the answer is “No,” to any of these questions then “NO” child should be sent to live there. Children’s lives should not be sacrificed just to maintain biological connections.

The reluctance to terminate parental rights is destroying far too many lives in this country. Until our judicial system realizes that the act of conception does not automatically give anyone the right to be a Mommy or Daddy. These titles must be earned. If they are not, no child’s life is worth the time it takes to find out if an abusive or neglectful person can turn things around, and eventually become a parent. Few ever do, and the ones who do may start a family when they are ready to do so. In the meantime, the results of their first attempt at parenthood should be living a happy, productive life with real parents.

There are children in foster care that should have never been placed there in the first place. Being poor or of low-income are not justifiable grounds to have your children removed. As long as parents are able to provide the basic needs of their children in a safe, clean setting while being nurturing and loving, the children should remain in their home. If a parent needs some parenting classes, this can be done while the children remain in the home.

The system should be offering help to families in need. Many families benefit from these services. Many families need help in times of crisis.

However, when someone inflicts unspeakable physical, emotional, or sexual pain upon a child, they do not deserve the chance to do it again.

Child Protective Services also must be extremely careful when allegations are made against the parents, whether it be the children, family members or neighbors. Too many false allegations get reported today. Too many parents are left having to prove their innocence rather than CPS proving their guilt. It is a tough balancing act but caution is the word!

People who care about children must be vocal about protecting foster children.

We must remember that these kids are our future. They need time and nurturing to develop as people. We must be cautious and inform them in terms at their level of the things that are affecting their lives.

In the end we foster children grow up just like everyone else, but our thoughts and attitudes are very different when it comes to many things. Some of us grow up with much hatred of life in our hearts and never adjust. Some of us grow up addicted to drugs, alcohol, pain, sex and etc, etc., Feeling that is what we deserve, since after all, our parents didn’t love us. Finally some of us get lucky. We realize that what we were given as a child was a bad break. We realize that life is ours for the taking, we must make the best of ourselves we can. The key is to forgive those who have abused us in the past, they are human, keeping that always in mind humans make mistakes.

We deserve the best. Life is a choice and nothing is handed to us…nothing is free and with that in mind, we grow into productive adults.

This is a subject very close to my heart. There is so much to be said and done. I pray for the system and do what I can. I thank God that there are many that have already stepped up to the plate to fight for reform of the system.

OK now you say, “Larry it takes time.” I know that but how much time do the kids have??

The system, yesterday, today and the future is still the system…a system…which is badly broken!

It has gotten worse, but it also has gotten better. There are so many variables that could be brought up that would scare the average person. The government rules for each entity are so involved and is full of red tape. That is why most folks give up.

I will say this again though and you will have to pardon my repeating of myself. We all have to go back to family values. What is a family unit? The family has taken a step back in priority in many peoples lives today and the end result is what is happening. Now before someone goes off, let me clarify one thing, it is not easy making a judgment call whether a child is returned to its biological family or a foster facility and I for one never want to have to make that call. I am not saying it is always done incorrectly, but the child has to be given the utmost attention at any given decision.

Do you really know what they are thinking, feeling or needing? And most would like to say or ask. “HELL NO, They don’t care!” They don’t take the time and that is one thing that gripes me to no end. This child is supposed to just adjust, ask any questions, act upset or act up and if they do they can be pulled and shoved someplace else.

I may be an adult now, but I have fought every inch of the way to be where I am. I had to go without food, sleep on an unheated porch, be sexually assaulted and live through many other things that are not important now…I made it.

That is why I am who I am today. Trust me when I say, take nothing or no one for granted. I never gave up, because I wanted to be better. I had few advocates in latter later years in the system that used to tell me; “They cared about me, I was worth something and that I must always remember that.” You have no idea how many times I had to keep repeating that to myself in mind and heart when I finally heard it until I believed it.

I was on my own at eighteen and I have made my share of mistakes, but that is OK…I hope I learned from them.

My point is look at these children, look at your own children. Love them, talk to them, hold them, look in their eyes, let them feel secure. I don’t care if your a volunteer, advocate, friend, family…you are a human being and all these kids really want is love and security !!! DON’T YOU ??

Security is within yourself and you have to teach all children that, no matter what, they have themselves and they will be OK. If we don’t teach them, life will teach them some hard lessons.

As for the system and its placing children, protecting them, don’t make me laugh. I am so sick of kids being used as punching bags, sexual gratification for perverts, verbally beaten down, starved for food and attention and some killed in the process. If you see it, report it and keep reporting it.

Each of us are responsible for children, whether they be our own or not. We have a responsibility to see that all decisions made for them are made in their best interest and not what is convenient for society. When we see children being wronged, we must speak out and see that corrective action is taken. I hear and read from many about how bad the foster care system is and how thankful their children are that they did not have to endure it. However, I do not hear or read, in many cases, them doing anything about it. If we are not part of the solution, then we are also part of the problem. Until we ALL demand action by those in charge of foster care or any program dealing with children…we must hold ourselves accountable along with them.

The system has come along, but there is so much more needed. The louder the voices, the better. It has to start at ground level and go to the top!

The following are a few suggestions to get you started:

1. If you are a healthy person, consider adopting an older child. The rewards will be numerous.

2. Consider becoming a foster parent if you are a patient, loving person.

3. If you know someone who is caring for a foster teenager, offer to help with homework or to mentor the teenager.

4. Teach your children to be very helpful and friendly to all new students in their school. Learning empathy will serve your children well in life. In addition, these new students who might be foster children will feel much better about school.

5. Volunteer in a nearby school to mentor students who are foster children.

6. Write to your legislators and tell them about the need to protect foster children.

7. Talk to social service agencies and plead with them to hire caseworkers who work with foster children that are caring, competent people.

Having been a child whose life was impacted negatively by the foster care system; I do hold myself accountable to do all that I can to change the system that harmed me and continues to harm thousands of children yearly.

I will continue to campaign to help kids in the system. The first is to try, whenever I can get an audience or a willing ear, to speak and write on the subject.

I will use any means available to change the archaic laws, which put so little emphasis on the children’s rights.

I implore anyone who believes in children having the right of a caring, loving, nurturing home and “real” parents to join me in this fight

Will YOU?
 

3 Responses

  1. I apologize for all of the pain that you have suffered. Unlike you I grew up in a loving home with both parents, and it hurts me to my heart to hear, know and see children suffering. I wish there was more than I can do for these children. There is a saying I have hear a long time ago “God made you and he did not make no dirt!”. That is the Ebonics equivalent of “You are one of God’s children”. May he bless you!

  2. Dude, I agree, the more people that come together and speak out about these issues the better. A complete restructuring of the child welfare system needs to take place and people that used to be in foster care need to be the ones to teach those stupid training courses for foster parents.

    I work in a program that works with foster teens from teh age of 16-25 years old. We will still be there for them until they turn 25.

    I feel like the voices of foster youth are the ones that tended to have the will and perseverance to work the programs and adapt easily to rules. I think that the kids that are immature, run away, talk back, do poorly in school are the ones we need to hear from more, they are the ones that will be able to restructure programs and talk back to the legislatures and fight the good fight.

  3. Thank you for posting this (and reposting it through the fp board). It brought me to tears. I long to be where you’re at and feel like i’ve “made it” past everything else that happened. For now, what happened haunts me daily and I feel trapped within the past. I hope to one day have a voice to make real change for kids who need it. For now I feel trapped, but am working to take care of myself so I can reach that point one day. I’m 8 years into adult hood and if anything it’s getting worse.

    Anyway, it feels good to know that are people like you out there and willing to work on behalf of kids who need it. We can’t give up the fight or stop caring, because as you mentioned so few people do. If we give up the fight, abused kids and foster kids will truly have nobody.

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