May Foster Care Challenge: Day 5.

Day Five: The Worst Experience in Foster Care

Why did I pick these really ambiguous (and depressing) topics? I already made an entry that went over a list of the horrible things I've had to live through and I don't really feel like picking one, calling it the "worst" and then expanding on it would really do this challenge, or foster youth, any justice or good.  It's not really fair and I've honestly already exhausted myself of talking about the different foster homes in themselves.  Call it what you want but I try to live every day forgetting that any of this existed.  My past is not something I can usually sit and recall with glazed eyes and a smile on my face.  It's more of a sick to my stomach jolting fear.  

With that in mind, there is something I could talk about that I haven't yet really gotten into...it meant so much to me during the process and is one of the things I get all worked up about when talking about foster care. I've spoken in front of several foster parent groups, as well as youth conferences, and this is the one thing that I try to grind into everyone's head.  It's not my "worst experience" per se but it was the thing that kept me down.  The thing that caused me to cry myself to sleep for years and the thing that's left me with gaping holes in my self-esteem well into adulthood.

When you're in foster care, you don't belong.  Anywhere. 

Foster care was the loneliest part of my life, to this day.  Even when living at home I had a little sister, and I had a family that knew me (though they didn't know the real me, they were at least a part of my daily life.)  I had someone to call parents.  The thing about foster care--and particularly with teenagers--is that we're at a constant sort of crossroads.  There's nowhere to really go.  By that point, it's hard to get a lot of families reunited, and a lot of foster homes don't really like dealing with teenagers for more than a few months at a time, so you're always on the move and always getting more and more distant with the life you knew before.

But that's not the worst part.  The worst part is that you're treated like a piece of legal meat.  You're on Medicaid--state health insurance.  The State literally owns you.  The State is your guardian.  I can't count the times I had a teacher say, "Have your parent or guardian sign this form."  My reply, "My guardian is the State of Tennessee."  A caseworker, a legal representative of the State, could sign paperwork and come with me to court, but there was no definitive caseworker appointed as my "guardian."  I've had many, many caseworkers, too.

As a teenage girl with all these random adults floating around--teachers, foster parents, my ex-parents (as I called them) and caseworkers, you can kind of sort of belong in any one place.  But you never truly belong.  You never truly open your heart to anyone and trust them, because you don't know when you'll be taken away.  Or sent away.  Or assigned to someone else's case.  There's this invisible umbrella guardian named "The State" who sort of passes you from one caretaker to the next, putting people in your life only to take them out months or years later.  Everyone in the court system obviously feels your birthparents aren't right for you, but they don't really give you any other solid options.

This isn't their fault.  I don't hold it against the judge or the lawyers or the caseworkers or anyone that they didn't work on putting me back in my home.  My father told them that they didn't want me.  (His actual words were: "We want the little one, we don't care about the big one."  I was the big one.)  I told them time after time that if I ever got sent back, I'd just run away again, and I meant it.  So, there was no grudge.  But on top of being juggled around in the system, I had to deal with why I wasn't good enough to have real, loving parents.   Why I wasn't good enough to be loved.

Everyone from foster parents, foster sisters to caseworkers at one point called me snobby.  Quiet. Withdrawn.  Weird.  Antisocial.  I have always, even since childhood, been the poster child for introspective and lonely, but hearing how I needed to cheer up, look on the bright side, wear less black, it did nothing but make me feel like more of an outsider.  Other foster girls loved our foster homes.  They walked with hopeful optimism.  They wore pink and curled their hair.  They'd grown up with parents who didn't shun and hate them.  Even if it was faked, they had a sense of confidence and the ability to make friends at school.  I didn't have any of that.

The reason this is so important to me is because I want everyone to understand that foster youth always have that sense of being at a perma-crossroads.  We have no idea when our life will ever be normal.  For us "normal" is being owned by a non-sentient being called "The State".  It's very rare that you'll ever see a trusting teenager, let alone one that's been thrown into this legal system to learn all these terms like "dependent neglect".  I think that a lot of people assume foster youth are for the most part, resigned to their fate or at least understand the position we're in.  In reality, we don't.  We were all just kids.  Even the ones who were seventeen and about to "age out" were still just kids.  We need someone reliable to look up to just like anyone else.  Just because we're acclimated to the change and inconsistency of foster parents and caseworkers doesn't mean we enjoy it or can cope with it at all.

If you're a foster parent you should never expect your foster children to trust you.  That's a hilariously unrealistic expectation.  But you should always show them why they can trust you.  Don't bother telling them; it'll go in one ear and out the other.  But showing that you really, really, really, REALLY will be there?


Too bad it never happens in real life.


  1. My step-father was a foster child for a short period of his life. So was my best guy friend. Both of them were abused by their foster parents in vile ways. Both of them, even in their adult lives, have trust issues that stem from that. it's sad things like that are allowed to go on.

  2. These posts break my heart. I have my own personal issues with my family, but at least I knew that no matter how my parents treated each other, I was still loved. To have to grow up in that environment...I can't even imagine. Due to my own personal reasons, I've seriously considered fostering, even if I can only make a difference in one child's life...it would be worth it for me. As horrible and depressing as your childhood was, I hope you can at least say that you've grown and learned and become a better person because of it? It seems through your posts that you definitely appreciate life a lot more now. Who knows if you would do so coming from a standard nuclear family?


  3. I love how you said "If you're a foster parent you should never expect your foster children to trust you. That's a hilariously unrealistic expectation. But you should always show them why they can trust you." Thank you!

  4. I am a foster parent and I get what you said. Our family has a few rules we go by and this is not always easy but we feel it is important: we see each case through to an ending. Do not give up on kids! Another that must be practiced: love is an ACTION! Showing love is not always easy but we work hard at it by showing respect, honesty and trustworthyness. There are many other ways to show love but those are important.
    Thanks for posting such honest thoughts!

  5. Well now. Here is another angle.

    I am a foster parent. I have been lied to, hit, kicked, had my front door kicked in, had money stolen, been screamed at, abandoned by son (he goes on the run) repeated times, things stolen from my house, had my credit card stolen,come home to find low-lifes in my house, etc. etc..

    I know his behaviors are based in a difficult childhood.

    I get it that we should love and stick with kids, but foster parents are people too. My son is 20 and has been with me 8 years off and on. He still lies, steals, and sneaks friends in the house. I get it -- he has issues.

    He is a ton better. A ton. He has improved in many many ways. I give him tons of props. Amazing progress But... at some point... I want to live my life without looking back over my shoulder 24/7. At one point does a parent -- foster or otherwise -- say, ok. that's it.

    Its more complicated than the (foster) parent should keep loving the kid no matter what. At some point, I don't know when, I am not sure, but... isn't he responsible for his actions and the repercussions of his actions? It is hard and sad what happened; foster care is no picnic. Still, am I, as the foster parent supposed to give up my own peace of mind forever because an injustice was committed? It was wrong, super wrong what happened to him (and tons of kids).

    Not sure what the answer is to these thorny questions.

    Dunno. Dunno. For me, to have a foster child say I should be trustworthy and never expect to trust my child -- when does that move from me offering loving support to me enabling dysfunction. Dunno.