‘Take a walk alongside a child in foster care’

Nease / MCT

I am 17 years old and in the process of aging out of foster care. By the time I was 12, I had learned to hate the world around me. I felt as if every effort I spent trying to live a better life was wasted, and that I was destined to live a life no better than my parents’. I didn’t understand how I could still be living with parents who hadn’t sent me to school for a whole year and who had had several neglect reports filed against them.

I did not understand that the hardships I had endured were not the fault of my parents, but the fault of an unforeseen mental illness and a repetitive cycle of abuse. It was this misunderstanding that led me to hold a grudge — against my mother, specifically.

What I failed to realize was that regardless of her health condition, my mother was always there for me in some way, shape or form. She protected me from the beatings my father would give me, spent time with me and showed me love; no matter how inconsistent. I know that my mother did truly love me. She was just repeating the habits that had been instilled in her since she was a child herself.

Unfortunately, it took me too long to understand this, and on May 16, 2009, my mother passed away from a fatal morphine overdose. I have vivid memories of that day and often wonder what life might have been like if the outcome had been different.

For the three years following her death, I remained in the custody of my father. They were the most difficult years of my life.

Suddenly I was left with a role I had never asked for. I was expected to do all of the house cleaning and cooking, as well as make sure my siblings got to school on time every morning. In addition, my father made me his personal servant. I was required to do everything he said without question. I was forced to grow up fast and although chronologically I am 17, I sometimes feel as if I have lived thrice as many years.

I have seen many instances of drug use, neglect and abuse that I wish I had never seen. However, that is the life of an “old” child who wakes up to find herself in foster care. It’s the life of a child who was forced to assume responsibilities and roles that did not match my capabilities.

It isn’t fair that I had to worry about where I would sleep the next night, if I would be taken away from my family the next day or if I would be forced to leave behind the only sense of stability I had. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right, but that doesn’t stop it from being reality.

Since my biological father was incapable of taking care of my siblings and me, we were eventually placed in foster care by the state.

We have been in foster care for about two years. It has been the greatest thing to happen in my life. Not because the system works, but because there are people within the system who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that a child has everything he or she deserves.

My foster parents are among those people. I acknowledge my Guardians ad Litem for being there for me every step of the way.

When my siblings and I were placed taken by the state, we were scattered around in different foster homes all over South Florida.

My guardians have helped me to stay informed about how my siblings were doing. They helped strengthen me as a person and taught me that everyone has a voice no matter what they believe.

They have aided me in the long process of entering adulthood. All in all, these wonderful ladies have done more for me than I can put into words.

After my case information was taken for consideration by a volunteer Citizen Review Panel, the judge who presides over my case allowed me to speak freely and openly about the previous conflicts in my life. This made all the difference in the world.

Currently I am enrolled in a high school for the arts and am working to maintain my GPA of 3.0. I want to be accepted into Florida International University where I will study education and literature.

I hope to be a writer and a teacher, as well as to adopt children from the foster system when I become an adult.

Foster care is not an issue that can be solved by one person. It takes many. In order to provide love and promise in a child’s life it is important that the people who can, step up and take a walk alongside a child in foster care. It is important that you invest and really give your all to support every child.

It is not the system that recreates a child’s life, but the people working within it.

This testimony was shared by the author, who wants to remain unidentified, at a luncheon sponsored by Voices for Children in Miami, attended by more than 400 child-welfare advocates and community opinion leaders.

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