To introduce the concept: foster children who have been unable to be placed with their bio family or adopted and thus become a member of another family, really have nothing to do when they turn eighteen. They have nowhere to go. The state offers foster care for children, not adults. (Although I think we can all agree, having been 18, that 18 is nowhere near "adult" in reality.) Foster youth such as myself were often given two choices: we could sign on to continue receiving care while in college or trade school, or we could throw a big middle finger up to the system and be free of it.
A Bright Future with State Assistance
The latter option is enticing. So tempting. But as someone who had so little opportunity in life, I knew I would take help for college if I could get it. The State of Tennessee had a lot of conditions to meet: you had to be in school full time, or school part time with a part time job, or a trade school, you had to maintain a C average, and so on: pell grants were given to cover part of tuition and dormitories were paid for. They also gave an allowance, something ridiculously low like $150 a month, but it was food at least. They would continue this care until I was 24 years old. That sounded amazing to my ears. I straightened my shit up senior year and finished ahead, with a lot of scholarships from a lot of different organizations who were intrigued by my story.
Graduating high school was a fun time in my life, despite changing foster homes three times my senior year. I had the scholarships, I was going to college, people were proud of me. They showered compliments and praise and told me how great things would be. They took me out to eat and got my hair done and bought me bookbags and pens and shampoo for awesome college life. My parents showed up for my graduation, and so did Brice, and Mrs. Montgomery (if you read my foster care series or my ebook then you know who they are) and I was sure that things were going to continue to be this amazing.
They didn't. No one even helped me get a ride to the college campus. Ironically, when all other people failed to notice me, my parents stepped up and offered to take me part of the way. My friend Nate took me the rest of the way and there I was: a few meager belongings and no bed sheets, with a roommate whose parents were buying her way and had given her not only bed sheets, but a computer. Fuck. It sucks being poor.
Here it is, my good ol' college library.
College Is Hard When You Don't Have Food
I had been given a "meal card" which gave me a precious 10 meals per week in the school's cafeteria. This meant I got to eat exactly ten meals a week. And that's exactly how much I ate. I had a caseworker who was supposed to get the paperwork for my $150 a month groceries, and also drive up and check on me from time to time. I never saw her. I never saw any foster parents either. I had no cellphone or anything like that, just an email address, but received zero emails asking how I was doing, from anyone. Things were very silent. I ate my ten meals a week, lost a lot of weight, applied for every job in a twenty mile radius (as did every other college student on campus) and did my thing.
Things weren't going so well. I think the part that was so painful wasn't just being up there without anyone, watching other kids go home and do laundry on the weekends, or take their cars to their part-time jobs. The part that hurt was that people left me after being so proud of me, supposedly. People who were "so impressed" by my story that they couldn't even email to check up on me, or at least answer my emails. I just wanted to be cared about. I was in choir and no one came to hear me sing, I was doing well in English and nobody saw my A+ papers. I pretty quickly became depressed. I suffered several UTI's and was bedridden, I got so sick with anxiety that I ended up stuck in campus restrooms for hours, puking up one of my precious ten meals a week.
My Caseworker Was The Biggest Cunt Ever
I don't say this lightly. It took this woman literally A YEAR to notice that I was failing college, that I hadn't been in contact with anyone and I basically could have died and nobody would have noticed except my friends at school. I had long given up on that food money. I had given up on everything actually. I didn't even register for a second year. I had also been promised about 1,000 USD from an old Pell Grant but never received that, either. With at least 50 job applications rejected and no car, I was sure that life was over.
I went back to East Tennessee at the end of the semester and stayed with friends. I ran across one of my old caseworkers who looked at me skeptically and asked how I was doing, if I had a place to stay. She reminded me that if I was suddenly homeless it was my caseworker's job to find me housing. I had gotten a cellphone (paid for by my boyfriend) finally, so I called that bitch of a caseworker and told her that I was essentially homeless and needed a place to stay and had never gotten my food money.
When she showed up to help me, she acted like I was the biggest most horrible burden ever. She stopped at McDonald's to get me lunch and then afterward, told me I was fat and needed to lose weight. (I was 5'6'' and about 140 at the time, but who the hell cares that's besides the point) Then she took me to the city's seediest, nastiest motel and called a coworker to get a stay set up for me. A hotel. She snapped that was "all there was" and as the coworker went through ten pages of legal paperwork with the hotel staff my caseworker said loudly to me, "See all the trouble you cause?"
dfsdöflasdfölj. If someone said that to me nowdays they'd either have a black eye, no teeth, or both. Let alone if they said it to someone as helpless as a fucking teenager from foster care trying to put her damn ass through college. But back then I was a meek little tard who let people boss her around because I saw what happened to the bad foster kids: group homes, institutions, and the dreaded holding until age 19. I had no desire for any of those things.
But after a nightmarish stay in that roach motel and realizing that things were falling apart; in my relationships, in school, in my sanity, with the State, with everything. It wouldn't be much longer before I walked over 300 miles from east Tennessee back to college for another semester. It wouldn't be long after that trek that I packed my bags a final time in that miserable disgusting state and stepped on a plane to leave Nashville behind for the superior Salt Lake City.
Had I not made that move, I don't know how my life would have turned out. But it doesn't matter. I made the move. I endured it. A lot of the decisions I made as a stupid 18 year old were, no surprise, stupid. But it doesn't matter about that either, because that was literally a different life and a different person. They were my weakest years and if I am ashamed of who I am at any point in my life, it was then. I guess I am pretty awesome because despite my great stupidity and lack of perseverance I still got my shit together and did something drastic to make my life better.
I could go on and on about the dangers of youth exiting foster care and the challenges they face, but hopefully this story highlights some from a personal point of view. I know I probably had it easy compared to a lot of teens in foster care. I don't claim to have the worst or most profound story. What I want everyone to know is that youth exiting foster care have it difficult and their small, puny support networks need some serious revamping. Please, if you can, go volunteer. Make a difference. There are tons of programs out there that help youth with adjusting to "adult" life. We deserve love and support and friendship and people who believe in us just as much as other young people.