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 many 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 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!!!