Foster Kid Phoenix

Foster Care sucks & I survived.


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the brighter side of foster care (&personal updates)

Hello, hello! Wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post on here. I don’t suppose that’s a terrible thing, though. I had a particularly busy and fascinating Winter Quarter (straight A’s again, high five!) and have been involved with several projects. I’ve been making art, crafting, reading and spending time with friends. I’ve also been planning a very big, exciting and intense change with my partner – we’re moving! He is going to a university, and I am itching to set my feet down on some new soil.

This is so exciting, because I am living in the same metro area that I was born, same area my mother was born, same county my case was first opened at.. the same county I emancipated in and began my adult journey in.

But, it’s time. I am ready for this change. I think back to all the times I was moved to unfamiliar locales by a social worker. Then, as a young adult, all the times I ached to get away from my hometown but wasn’t ready to leave the life I had painstakingly built for myself. It is now time, and I couldn’t be more proud of myself and those who helped me get to this point.

Reflecting on my life so far,  I can’t help but feel fortunate. Even though I have had my share of darkness and despair, things have seemed to turn out for the better. I have written a fair bit on the painful side of growing up in foster care – now, for a change of pace, here are some reasons I am grateful for this experience.

starbul2I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t taken out of my home. I don’t know if I would be alive right now. I also don’t know who I would be. My experiences have shaped me, and for better or for worse, I love who I am today.

STARBUL1I have met so many amazing and inspiring people. This obviously includes the tribe of former fosters that I consider my family, but also the allies who wore their hearts on their sleeves, the staff who trusted me, the social workers who believe in me.

starbul2I can go to school! I know several people who have not been in foster care, who can not afford to go to school. Some of these people even have families who are doing well enough to stay off the streets, but can not pay for their children’s education. I strongly believe that education is a right and that every single person on this planet should be able to receive an affordable education, but sadly that is not how this country is run. I am so grateful for my ability to attend classes and I know that being in foster care made this possible.

STARBUL1Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I have health care until I’m 26! Even if I was never in foster care, certain illnesses run in my family. And since I was in foster care, I have that PTSD beast to take care of. I am fortunate to live in a state that took the Medicaid extension. Health care is another basic human right that sadly, not everybody gets to enjoy. Thanks to my status as a former foster youth, I have access to health care.

starbul2The most important value to me is my ability to empathize/sympathize with people. I have a strong emotional connection with the suffering of others, probably because I have known suffering myself. And I am certainly aware that there are so many who suffered worse than me, and those who continue to. This drives my actions. I aim to be someone who others can find comfort in, and strive to help make the world a kinder place, however I can.

This is an inconclusive list, but it is good to keep in mind. As my dear friend pointed out this weekend, “You never realize how much foster care affects your live until you’re in your 20′s, trying to make it on your own.” This experience, I feel, never totally leaves us. We probably will never heal completely. But I want to remember that anything can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you view it.

Peace,
Phoenix


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another blogger’s perspective on THE FOSTERS (possible but unlikely spoiler alert??)

When the ABC Family show The Fosters first came out, it seemed everyone was talking about it. Inter-racial same sex relationships with adopted kids AND foster kids! And one of the moms is a cop?! Such a striking comparison to what we currently see on television.  Finally, some diversity that matches what the REAL WORLD LOOKS LIKE. And, of course, as a former foster youth I’m always interested in seeing us represented on TV. Not only do I want to relate to a character for a change, but it will obviously provide the populous with a view into our reality.

For this same reason, I was a bit wary. What if The Fosters  perpetuates negative stereotypes? Foster youth don’t need any more bad press. On the other hand, it could provide some real insight into what life is like for us. With these concerns in mind, I watched the pilot episode a few months ago. I was initially turned off. It seemed unrealistic. Look at these angelic foster parents, they are so good and so selfless. Look at this miserable stray child, she is so dark and negative. Who goes to school on a BEACH? (And, to be fair, I was triggered by the “real kid” – “temp kid” relationships!) I didn’t give the show a fair chance. 

A friend of mine, another foster alumna/advocate, urged me to watch the show again. She reminded me that I didn’t watch enough of the show to get a good sense of what was really going on. So when I got home tonight, I decided to pull it up on Netflix and watch. I’m glad I did, because I have a new opinion on the show.

It’s incredible.

I was talking to my boyfriend after finishing the fourth episode, and we realized that the dynamic between the moms and their clan seemed too good to be true, because we didn’t have parents who treated us lovingly or gave us the time of day. But this is what good parenting looks like, and it’s nice to be able to see an example of it. The characters are in no way perfect – they face problems that real people go through. But they don’t expect each other to be perfect, and they love unconditionally. I’m certainly learning some important life tips for when I one day become a foster parent myself.

I’m also impressed by the portrayal of siblings in foster care – it’s something we’ve been talking about a lot in CYC. (And, as of today’s Advisory Board meeting, the topic of our recommendation for the Day At The Capitol conference!) I never had siblings who were in foster care, but I do have sisters and a brother who I love dearly, so I can certainly sympathize. In the pilot episode, Callie gets out of juvie and has one mission – to see “Jude”, who I thought would be a skeezy boyfriend but turned out to be her brother. She risked her life (and the life of her foster brother – oops.) to make sure that her little brother, who was staying in an abusive foster home while she was locked away, was okay. In a perfect world, no siblings should be separated from each other, under any circumstances – and in a even more perfect world, no sister should have to go to juvenile hall for protecting her little brother. Sadly, this world is not yet perfect, and it’s important people are aware of what really goes on in the system.

Another thing I’m grateful for is that the writers of this show are not blind to the harsh treatment that fosters can receive from “normal” kids who don’t understand what they’ve gone through. It’s frustrating to see the way the other students at the fancy-pants charter school treat Callie, based on their stupid presumptions. But it’s real. It happens, and it sucks. Hopefully some people are watching this and realizing it’s hard to be the Callies and Judes of the world, and that they deserve kindness and respect.

I’m excited to watch more! I’m curious to see what other hidden facets of the foster care system (and foster parenting, which I know very little about) are uncovered. And — who is this Liam character?


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what is foster care & why is it an issue?

Hey folks, it’s been a while since I’ve posted! Eep! I haven’t forgotten about this blog, I’ve just been busy with school and life and emotions.

I’m still deciding if I should create a posting schedule or not, but in the mean time, please know that this blog will never be abandoned, even if there haven’t been recent posts for a while. If you want to stay in the loop with my erratic posting schedule, please follow my blog! (If you already are, thank you so so much! I never expected to have a single reader, so I appreciate all of you and your lovely comments!)

Anywhoo, tonight I’ll be sharing an essay that I wrote for my Health Science class last Spring. I put a lot of work into it, so I decided to recycle it for an audience slightly larger than my professor! I’m sure many if not most of the folks reading this blog will know this information already… but if anyone stumbles upon my blog who doesn’t know much about foster care, this is for you. :)

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Sometimes, we have to learn the hard way: what I wish I knew when I turned 18

Even though I had support leaving the system, a lot was left for me to figure out. Here’s my list of things I wish I knew right before I left the system, but didn’t know until it was too late. My list is tailored to the state I live (California), and only contains what I’ve learned up to now (I’m twenty-three).

I love my life now, even though it is not without difficulties (many caused by the oversights reflected upon in this list). Certainly making better decisions during my early years of adulthood would have changed the course of my life to this point. For better or worse, who’s to say? Still, it would have been nice to know  what I’d be sort-of-regretting years down the line. Maybe I would have been able to make more informed decisions rather than  impulsive ones.

I like the idea of these lists, & think it would be extraordinarily helpful to collect several of them (with permission of course) and send them to freshly-emancipated foster folks.

STARBUL1If you don’t take advantage of “limited-time offers”, such as the CHAFEE grant or Denti-Cal benefits (kinda useful for getting cavities filled and wisdom teeth extracted!) you will lose them and you might miss them. 

starbul2If you have the opportunity to be in a great transitional housing program, but feel stifled by the restrictions/curfew/housemates, remember that these programs are short term.  It’s not forever, and anything is bearable temporarily. (Remember the subtitle of this blog? Foster care sucked.. and I survived.) It’s hard when you just gained your freedom, especially if you came from group homes (zero to ten much?), but you’ll have plenty of time to fly without a net soon enough! Focus on the goal: learning independent living skills. Get as much as you can from the program. 

STARBUL1Don’t count on the adults in your life to give you guidance unless you ask for it. You’re an adult, you are responsible for your own decisions. That responsibility comes abruptly, so ask for honest advice from people you trust before making any big decisions. You may not have the foresight to see how a decision could alter the course of your life.

starbul2Twenty-one sneaks up on you from behind.

STARBUL1Twenty-four comes even faster. I think there must be some truth to that whole “time keeps moving faster as you get older” thing.

starbul2Be active in your local foster-youth advocacy group, if you have one in your area. (California Youth Connection is age-capped at 24 and now that I’ve gotten thoroughly involved, I’m bummed that I missed out on so many years of conferences and meetings. I can’t help but wonder who I would be now, if I was more active earlier on. Probably a lot more confident and driven.)

STARBUL1Never underestimate the power of weighing the pros and cons of taking an action.

starbul2Remember that mistakes are not barriers to success, they are bridges. Don’t waste time mentally kicking yourself in the rear for all the opportunities you’ve watched pass you by. Learn what you can and be ready next time. Sometimes, this is just how we learn.

STARBUL1“Mm, there’s been some rough times…but the important thing…is to, um, you have to face your problems… and you should never ever, ever, ever… ever, ever give up. Never ever, ever, ever . Winston Churchill said that… I think.” -Dennis, from the movie Martian Child (a sweet movie about a foster kid who thinks he’s a martian)

starbul2Getting wasted with your friends constantly is fun until you realize that you can’t remember those years of your life because they have been lost in a haze. Also, be careful if you decide to experiment with drugs and/or alcohol. Nobody can stop you if you’re going to, but be safe.

STARBUL1It’s much harder to come off the streets than it is to end up there.

SIDENOTE: AB12 is probably great because I made much better decisions at twenty-one than eighteen. At eighteen I was a teenager, by twenty-one I was an adult. Glad to see this is recognized & now a thing.


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tears of joy

This post is inspired by  the “What Foster Care Feels Like” gallery at Foster Focus Magazine dedicated to all the current and former foster youth, and especially to California Youth Connection – because you have given me a family, a community, belief in the power of change, and a reason to continue growing.

I’ve cried pleading tears of desperation,
hot angry tears that got me consequences and never consolation,
confused lost child tears in the padded walls of a group home quiet room,
sobbing heaving tears echoing through the empty halls of my first apartment,
and the dry-eyed, straight-faced tears that nobody outside my mind could see.

I didn’t know tears could also come from joy.
understanding that all the pain I’ve felt,
the pain which can not be named
of a past that I could hardly make sense of
is not a burden to hold quietly in my chest.
it is a pain shared by countless generations of kids
young, grown, deceased and yet to be born.

What I can not explain to those blessed by their upbringing
I need not explain to my brothers and sisters who have walked this path.

And finally, I know
that in my loneliness,
I was never alone.

I give my pain a new shape -
to lovingly mold my experience into something that can be used,
something that can grow wings and touch hearts.

These are tears of joy.

 


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depression, trauma, and our beautiful souls

We need to create our own narratives, our own self-help phrases and affirmations, directed at our own souls and paths. Those of us who have survived traumatic abuse don’t have it easy. What might work for those blessed with healthy, loving foundations probably won’t work for us who were brought up to believe that we are weak and inherently flawed.

We can’t give up hope. We must allow ourselves to cultivate hope. Just because the answers aren’t on the table yet doesn’t mean they’ll never be found.

I’ve been struggling a lot this past few weeks. For a while I felt on top of my shit – believing that I have what it takes to make my dreams come true. I believed I was a valuable asset to my community, just waiting for the right opportunity to shake it up and make some changes around here.

Now, I’m not so sure. I’m having a hard time getting out of bed, I am second guessing everything that comes out of my mouth or flows through my head. I have no idea why, or how, I fell so low. Depression sure is tricky. It obscures the truth, and worse yet, makes it easy to believe the lies. Sometimes I can see a little more clearly, but then it becomes a whole new battle – “why am I still feeling this way? What’s wrong with me?” 

On one hand – yes, I have survived years of abuse, being told by the people who were supposed to care for me that I am bad, evil, worthless and should have never been born. But I should know better by now, right? After all, I have plenty of good qualities. I’ve even started a journal, recommended by my therapist, to record positive moments and nice things people have said about me.

Why won’t it sink it?

When I start feeling this way, as hard as it is, I need to step back and remind myself how much shit I’ve been through. I often compare myself to others, others who were lucky enough to grow up in peaceful, supportive families. That’s not fair. I’m not going to be where they are. 

I also compare myself to other foster kids.. but I’m realizing something. Just because, on the outside, people seem like they have it all together – doesn’t mean they don’t cry themselves to sleep at night. We’re all infinitely more complex than it would appear at first glance. 

I’m not sure when I’m going to start feeling better, or if I’ll ever be completely healed from my pain and free of my conditioning. But I’m going to keep on living, learning, trying to navigate the tangles of my mind. If I give up, I know for sure that I will be miserable.

When I break my suffering down to one goal, it seems much more achievable.

 

I don’t need to try and be a better person. I don’t need to change anything about myself. Right now, I just need to learn to see the person I am. Free of the nagging words of my abusers, free of crippling self-doubts.

I’ve caught glimpses of her – my true self. I like that person. I’m not very nice to her.. but.. someday, I hope to have a good relationship with her, and get to live with her full-time. :)


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we want you to be real with us.

I just read a story written by Ms. Helen Ramaglia for the Chronicle of Social Change opinion blog on the Healing Effects of Alumni in the Lives of Foster Children. In her post, Ms. Ramaglia, a foster care alumna, talks about her almost painful need to help her brothers and sisters still in care. She holds a workshop at a foster care success conference, and finds that the youth do not want to engage with her, and do not respect her. They were asking her questions about her life, but unwilling to speak about their own pain and hopes. After the session, she asked the kids what she should have done differently.

Their response – be more real.

Why share their pain with me if I wasn’t willing to share my pain with them? They said I had to earn their trust, their respect. They used the word “raw” and I started to get a little scared.

They were demanding I deliver the goods. They needed to know that I was going to be able to ‘understand’ their pain before they shared.

I remember that when I was in foster care, none of the adults seemed to understand me. I was expected to open up to therapists, social workers, and day staff, but it was hard to trust them. Even when I did develop trust with a person, there was a level of disconnect. The pain of being a forgotten child, a societal misfit, is so real, so acute, and it deepens when you feel that the people paid to care for you will never understand. If they did understand, maybe there would be less foster youth in juvenile detention centers, less youth in psych wards. More hugs, more love.

Now that I am outside of the system, I’ve learned that many people come back to work with foster youth after leaving care themselves. Two of the staff at my last group home were former foster youth. There might have been – probably were – many more former fosters that I came into contact with during my time in care. These people, if their hearts are in the right place, are the greatest asset to the system. There are also plenty of people with really big hearts and really bright smiles who may not have had personal experience in care, but I could tell fought with their own demons. Those are the people who I could have looked up to. Those are the people I would have loved to learn more about.

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