LIFE IN FOSTER CARE
By LISA GOODMAN, MATT SEIFMAN and AMANDA VENDER
ILLUSTRATION by IVETTE SALOM
Foster care is a program in which children are cared for outside of their own home by people who are not their parents or legal guardians. Kids are placed in the foster care system, run by state and local government, usually due to reports of abuse or neglect. Children can enter foster care at any age, from infancy up to age 18 years, and most are out by the time they are 18 years old. Foster placements are meant to be temporary until a safe environment can be established at home, or until the child is adopted.
FOSTER CARE NUMBERS
423,773 The number of children in foster care in the United States (Source: Children’s Defense Fund, 2009)
9.8 years The median (middle) age of children
in foster care (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September, 2008)
13.3 months The median (middle) amount of time kids spend in foster care (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September, 2008)
The following stories are portions of longer essays from Represent, a national magazine by and for young people in the foster care system.
Shantae Takes Charge!
After about two months [at a foster home], everyone’s attitude in the house changed toward me.…they were worse than rude to me. I hated being treated that way. My past was already bad enough—feeling neglected and hurt my whole life, and now this. It seemed like no one wanted to stay a part of my life. People have walked in and out since Day One.
I decided to take action, and I called my action “Shantae Takes Charge!” It was late, but I called my social worker and left a message. She called me back first thing in the morning and got me right out of that home.
The feeling of being treated differently than biological kids is one of the worst feelings a foster kid could have. Nobody wants to feel inferior in her own home. Every child is supposed to have a place to call home—where she feels safe, somewhere to run to.
I am currently at a great new foster home where they treat me as if I were one of their own. They tell me that they love me and reward me for my good behavior and grades. I almost never feel reminded that I am a foster kid.
Dealing with my past takes time, and I still feel angry and depressed a lot. But I am working on it and building trust with my new family. What helps me the most is knowing that I have a foster family that loves me.
Gaining A Family—I found good foster parents but lost my siblings
Reprinted from LA Youth
It was hard for me to accept that my siblings got adopted. I knew that we were all going to have separate lives. I lost the hope of one day becoming a whole family again. Even though we are no longer together, we have all found stability and families that love us. So I guess I would say that we are lucky. We each have two families now- our biological family and the families we live with.
I used to think that family was only your brothers and sisters, mom and dad. But now I know that your family is the people who are there for you in good times and bad times. I never thought that when I moved into my third foster home I was going to gain a family.
A New World: Immigration and Foster Care
When you’re in foster care, feeling like you belong is important. For those of us who are immigrants in the system, that sense of belonging is even harder to achieve. We are separated not only from our loved ones, but from everything that is familiar—our language, culture, family history, and so much more.
Excerpted with permission from Represent: The Voice of Youth in Care, Copyright 2010 by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc. To read more stories by teens in foster care go to http://www.youthcomm.org/Publications/FCYU.htm
There are different types of foster homes and foster families. Sometimes children are placed in the care of a relative, and other times they become part of a foster family who they have never met before.
If you or someone you know is being abused in foster care, here are some ways to get help:
• Tell your social worker. If that doesn’t work, tell your social worker’s supervisor.
• Tell your law guardian or lawyer.
• Call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). The hotline can connect you with help near you.
• Always keep track of things you’re uncomfortable with in the home by writing down what happened and when. Having a written record can help you make your case.