The Agony of Foster Care Does NOT End When You Leave It!

I am a firm believer that though one may leave the foster care system the foster care system never leaves you.

One may go on with their lives, and they need to, but the system and one’s expereiences will always remain a part of you…one must learn however to not allow it to control them.

The article below is an interesting one in light of this:

Bittersweet Christmas: Holidays hard for foster kid
By Janine Zeitlin • jzeitlin@news-press.com • December 23, 2008

Lakiesha Moss decks the walls of her Fort Myers apartment with construction-paper snowmen and wreaths by her 7-year-old daughter, Keashana.

She reminds her that Christmas means family and Jesus’ birth.

Their tree stretches about 6 feet. Her holiday decor fills a few boxes.

Moss, 21, tries to craft merry memories for her two daughters to overcome the ones stashed in her own childhood.

“I wouldn’t call them holidays,” said Moss, who entered foster care at 14 after her mother abandoned her. “We didn’t have a Christmas, trees or gifts. We’d watch all our friends ride bicycles and have fun with their toys.”

The onslaught of the holiday offerings may sound Christmas blues for the lonely-hearted and those far from family. But, for those who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their families, the pain runs deep.

But, for many who are too old for foster care, the bond is not to the state. Or to blood. They define family as caring mentors or advocates. During the holidays, they turn to those who have shown them what Christmas can mean.

Some say these young adults need more support.

Signs of cheer can stir depression and resurrect hardly greeting card reflections. Few can conjure many, if any, happy holidays with their families.

“For kids who don’t have good memories, it just brings more loneliness and sadness,” said Judi Woods, executive director of Footsteps To The Future, which mentors young women in foster care or those who have left it.

“You think about how many people will be alone on Christmas, way too many foster kids will be alone. The reason they’re still alone is because their picture is on nobody’s dresser.”

A Christmas a few years back, she soothed girls who had become suicidal.

There are almost 70 young adults in a program that provides some state support for former foster children once they turn 18 as long as they attend school. But, for most, it’s not enough to survive.

The Children’s Network of Southwest Florida gave the young people gift cards and hosted a party at Mike Greenwell’s Family Fun Park in Cape Coral with the Children’s Home Society of Florida.

“We do try to keep them safe and happy,” said Aimee McLaughlin, a network spokeswoman.

Moss returns to Our Mother’s Home, a place for girls in foster care and their babies in San Carlos Park, for the Christmas party.

She moved there seven years ago with Keashana, then 1. Her first Christmas seemed like a dream. Not accustomed to feasting as a family, she felt strange sharing a dinner.

“Everybody was so close and taking pictures. I’ve gotten used to it. … I feel like that’s my family,” said Moss, an Edison State College student who hopes to become a school therapist. “There’s just a real connection. There’s love.”

Mary Lewis, the organization’s executive director, said she hears from or sees about 10 graduates a year around the holidays.

“Christmas is a time of memories, and I think they’re trying to fill themselves up with some of that love,” Lewis said.

Desiree Lewis-Dahlte remembers being relegated to a separate table during holidays spent in foster care and receiving meager presents when compared to the booty of blood-related children.

Now 25, she was 4 when she entered foster care.

“A lot of foster homes, they do stuff, but for their real kids they do more stuff,” she said.

After her adoptive father abused her at 16, she entered care again and met Woods. This year, Lewis-Dahlte is low on cash but wants to show her boys a happy Christmas.

Woods invited the mother and her sons, 4 and 5, to her home after hearing she was scheduled to work a 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. cooking shift at Denny’s.

“I’ve just got this soft place in my heart for her,” Woods said. “If they have no place to go, they’ll come with me.”

Lewis-Dahlte, who rears her boys in a Pine Manor duplex, plans to attend candlelight service with Woods, stay at her home, and rouse around 5 a.m. to open presents.

“I try to make it better for my kids,” she said.

Woods contacts the young women in her program to ensure they have a place to stay. She worries about the young men.

Dominic Nealy, 18, doesn’t have Christmas plans. He hasn’t put up a tree in his east Fort Myers apartment he shares with his fiancee.

This will be one of the first Christmases he will be out of jail in recent years.

Nealy was arrested about a week before Christmas 2007 on a robbery charge and released months later into foster care.

He didn’t have transport to attend the network’s party. He can’t afford a car. He pedals a loaned bike.

He said he hasn’t had a warm holiday since 1999. The next year, his uncle, a strong father figure, died.

Nealy does consider Richard Sapp, a fatherly figure in his child welfare past. Sapp heads the organization that runs two group homes, Chariot House and Hope House, where he lived.

Sapp said past residents sometimes swing by near holidays.

“Once the kids connect with you, they sort of rely on you as a family member,” he said. “We try to wean them from us. We don’t want them to develop a dependency and want to steer them in the right direction for independence.”

Nealy one day hopes to have children with his fiancee.

Maybe then Christmas will feel different.

“I believe in Christmas but don’t too much care about it,” Nealy said. “I just look at all the Christmas decorations and keep on going. … But I don’t want them to have the same kind of lifestyle I have.”

Nannette Miller and her family bought presents for an 18-year-old former foster child and her two children after Miller’s 11-year-old offered to sacrifice her Christmas to someone in need. The Fort Myers hair stylist found the family through Footsteps.

She feels the community and the child welfare system need to embrace these young adults beyond the holidays.

“I would hope the system changes and these kids are taken care of and at 18 years old, they’re not just let lose,” Miller said. “They’re not getting the support they need to make their life work for them.”

One Response

  1. Outstanding information / I will definitely come back soon!!

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