8.14.2013

Turning 18 in The Foster Care System.

My birthday is awesomely one week away!!!  Vacation has ended for me and I've returned to work for my au-pair family, so posts have been sparse and I apologize.  With my birthday coming up and the recent foster care work I've been doing, I wanted to share another experience I've never really delved into on this blog, despite the fact that it's the part of foster care I'm most passionate about as well as the part I have been most involved in and want to continue to be involved in: aging out of foster care. 


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. 

4 comments :

  1. Oh, I am so sorry that happened to you. Youth aging out of foster care is a passion of mine. I met a 19 yr old at a function and was told she had no place to live and was going to College. I took her in and she stayed with me till 23. She couldn't live with her family, though stayed in touch and her prior foster family wanted nothing to do with her. We ended up helping to teach her to drive, with a down payment for a car, watching her get her first job etc... What was difficult for me was I loved her like my own, and she wanted nothing to do with being in a family, it took me a while to get that but when I did, finally, things were fine. We're on FB and chat occasionally, she's been promoted to a supervisor now. I'm so proud of her and I know I did the right thing. I am not sure what would have happened.
    Shame on your caseworker. Really. And at 18, you're still a kid, your supposed to make mistakes. Your supposed to be "stupid", lol.
    I hope you're doing well now, and sometimes we learn the most from the negative events in our lives.
    With much admiration~
    Laurie
    lreisman@familyservicesgw.org if you ever need anything.

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  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along.I'm impressed. You're truly well informed and very intelligent. You wrote something that people could understand and made the subject intriguing for everyone. I'm saving this for future use. Choice Home Care Atlanta

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  3. Do you know if there are any 'mentoring' programs I (or others) could be a part of for previous foster kids? I don't know if I'd even be helpful, but it seems like it would be an easy thing to do on my part, even if it was just getting coffee with them or studying! I am the WORST at making friends, even when i have something in common with them, so I could see how hard it would be to be in a situation where you don't have much in common with people and are from a different background. I started at a university this semester and have been at community college the past couple years and it is SO awful. Good in a way, but the people are outrageous. Everyone spends so much money, has everything paid for by their parents, etc. I was in line at the bookstore and this one family all had shirts/sweaters/sweatpants, etc with the NAU logo on it and spent over $500 on just the clothes, while I'm here wanting to cry because I barely have enough money to pay for my $50 lab manual! Also, I'm surprisingly out of place with my tattoos haha So anyways, if there's anything I can do in my town without being a social work major or something, let me know! I don't even know how to look for that kind of stuff.

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  4. Thank you for asking!! Foster care volunteering is done 99 percent by state and that is mostly organized by either the DCS workers, or the foster parents, depending on who is more active and has the most free time. I googled for your area and found this handy dandy resource: http://www.arizonaschildren.org/individualopportunities.htm


    Utah has a really great youth mentoring program that targets youth exiting foster care and needing a mentor in the real world who isn't a shit for brains drug addict or abuser or whatever their bio parents are. It is a great program and gives the kids someone to look up to. It was an amazing program and I hope to rejoin it when I go back to Utah. I super hope that Arizona has something similar!!! Your best bet is that webpage, or googling for a Flagstaff foster care support group. The last option is calling the Child Services office. I say last option because they are usually very confused and busy and don't have their heads screwed on right half the time so they might not be effective.



    I totally get you about feeling out of place. That was the biggest thing for me in college. I could have fallen over at the prices people were dropping on things like books and binders and laptops and cameras and illegally acquired vodka and I was like, sitting over there with some stolen cookies like "haha yeah...college life...it's...the life...." but fear not! We would have probably been best friends in college!!! And maybe when I go back to Utah we can road trip somewhere together!!! and complain about people who waste money on stupid shit like college hoodies.....

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