Read the powerful experience of a foster youth going through unimaginable things and taking care of her two younger sisters along the way. Be inspired by how she overcame every odd against her and hear her cry for future foster families!
Written by Ashley, Former Foster Youth
My name is Ashley and I entered foster care at the age of 15 with my two and 13-year-old sisters.
About two years before we entered foster care my uncle had been released from prison. He moved in with us and there ended up being quite a few interesting people hanging around our house. Although I didn’t know it at the time, all of these people and my parents got involved in a huge fraud ring. Along with the criminal behavior, there was a lot of drugs around the house and general neglect of both my sisters and myself. My mother was eventually arrested for trying to cash a fake check and, next thing we know, she was gone from our home. More police visits occurred and my dad was later arrested for child endangerment while my sisters and I were taken into custody.
During our time in foster care, my sisters and I were never separated but that did mean we required an emergency placement at first. The mother of the house only spoke Spanish and we had nothing but the clothes on our backs when we pulled up to the house – no pajamas, no toothbrush, nothing. We weren’t allowed to use the phone or computer so we had no contact with anyone. The next day, my great-aunt and her husband were cleared to get custody of us. This meant moving yet again, still without having changed our clothes or getting toothbrushes.
While I am extremely grateful that we got to live with my aunt and keep going to school as normal, it was really hard. It was strange to be in the same town that I grew up in and not know where my parents were or what they were doing or if they were even okay. I wondered if they were worried about us as well. Every time a social worker came to visit us, all they wanted to discuss were my parent’s crimes and abuse towards us; it felt like we had to live through trauma over and over again. My schedule was wake up around 5:00am to get my youngest sister ready for the day, get her dressed, fed, and put on cartoons for her while I got ready for school. She asked for my mom A LOT, and I just told her not to worry because I was taking care of her. After school she would sit with me and color while I was doing homework. Once I was done with my homework, I would usually spend an hour or so practicing letters or something else with her to make sure she was getting enough attention and learning the things she needed to at that age. I have a drawing she made for me during this time of me sitting in front of a white board and of her at a desk. This was from when I would teach her the alphabet, phonetics, and how to write her name. I keep that drawing hung in my office at home as a reminder of that time I had with her. I keep that drawing hung in my office at home as a reminder of that time I had with her. Along with those roles, I also often cooked dinner and did all of our laundry. My other sister was responsible for bathing her, brushing her hair, and braiding it every night. It was weird because, even though there were adults all around us, we still took on the roles of taking care of our youngest sister. I felt such an immense responsibility to shelter my sisters from everything that was happening. Everything was unknown during this time – expectations were unknown, how we should behave was unknown, whether we were going to be bathed, fed, given clothes, etc. it all felt so foreign and unknown.
The whole experience was really heart wrenching for me but I don’t think I let myself fully experience my emotions. Everyone around me was telling me that this was a good thing, that my parents needed this to get better, and that I should do whatever I could do to support them. Even now, I just think – well what about me? What about my emotions? What about when I had to comfort and soothe my baby sister as she whimpered in her sleep, calling out for a
mother that wasn’t there? Nobody seemed concerned about us and I just hate how overlooked we were in all of it. Even though we ended up being placed with family, nobody seemed empatheticof our emotions or what we might be going through. Learning, as a teen, that your parents have been drug addicts and criminals for the larger portion of your life is a shock in and of itself but then throw in all the unknowns, school, peer relationships, and thinking about college – it was rough. I was wrecked because I had nobody to comfort me, and yet I managed to thrive on the outside. I shoved all of my negative emotions and my desire for comfort deep inside of me and instead poured all of my energy into caring for my sisters and excelling in school.
Having gone through the system and out of it now, I realize how broken it is. It always seemed like my sisters and I were afterthoughts. It was as if all that mattered was getting us a bed to sleep in that night, but not a single other need was met throughout the process. In my situation, there was so much focus on my parents and their recovery that nobody paused to think about our trauma. And what about children that are constantly moved around in the system? Every single move is traumatizing, every single move creates situations of uncertainty and fear for children. I only experienced living in a new home twice and it was so unbelievably hard. The issues are systemic – I wish there was a better solution and I encourage every healthy family that I know to consider being foster parents, because that is one way I know of to help heal the system. If we can increase the number of healthy families and resources for these kids, then they have a better shot at success in life. Dealing with the systemic issues, such as the low bar that is required for someone to become a foster parent, underfunded programs, and over-worked social workers will take time… but any healthy, loving person can become a foster parent and change a life.
If I could give advice to people reading this it would be to stop thinking that being a foster parents would be “too hard” for them. What about these kids? Don’t you think it is a lot harder for them? Not helping them perpetuates cycles of poverty and other big issues. I wore my label of being a foster kid like it was some kind of dirty thing about me and I don’t want kids to feel that way. There is so much wealth and love in the world and I think people need to step out of their comfort zone and stop being afraid to get hurt. Instead, consider fostering or becoming a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and change a child’s life! Fears are the same whether you want to foster or would never consider it – losing a child that you poured so much love into. For the people who would never consider foster, choosing not to help could result in a kid out there who will never experience that healthy relationship and that love of a family. The rewards that exist for children in the foster care system far outweigh the risk being placed on the families that do not want to do it.
In spite of my label as a former foster youth that aged out, I will be graduating with a Master’s Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology this weekend! In the future, I plan to definitely become a foster parent; I have never had any intentions of having my own children because there are just too many children in this world not receiving proper parenting, comfort, or love. I am in therapy now trying to work on myself and make sure that I can be the best parent possible so that my husband and I can be fully present for foster kids.
Thanks so much for reading my story.
Above Photos by Sarah Sotro, www.sarahsotro.com