Vol. 9, No. 2 • May 2005

A Word from the Wise

Responses to Last Issue's Writing Contest for Children

Wisdom is a funny thing. We may have suffered through trials and learned countless lessons, but few of us will readily admit to being wise. Somehow it is much easier for us to talk about what we don’t know than to share our insights.

And yet we all know something about what it takes to make it through this life. Wisdom is there inside each of us, waiting to be tapped.

That’s what we were trying to get at with the writing contest in the fall 2004 issue of Fostering Perspectives, which asked current and former foster children to write a letter, based on what they know now, giving advice to an imaginary boy or girl about to enter foster care for the first time.

As you can see from this and the following pages, the response we received was remarkable. The advice these young writers chose to share with other children ranged from the personal (“I know you can do it because I believe in you”) to the universal (“everybody makes mistakes”), from the worldly (“don’t steal or lie”) to the spiritual (“know God is always with you”).

They generously share the simple but vitally important things they have learned: Keep your head up. You can’t run away from yourself. Don’t give up. Be patient. If I can make it, so can you.

We hope you will let these letters touch you and inspire you to look for—and make use of—the wisdom in yourself and those around you.

—John McMahon, Editor

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Gabby, age 12

I had just turned seven when DSS took me away from my mom. During the two and a half years that I was in the foster care system I lived with two different families. I learned that being a foster child feels different from living with your biological family. I constantly had to deal with negative feelings, visits with my mom, answering personal questions from others, and dealing with grief. . . .

The hardest situation for me was the weekly visits with my mom. The visits were so hard because I had to leave her over and over again. Saying “goodbye” wasn’t the easiest thing to do, so after the visits I would get angry. Sometimes I would get angry at the littlest things . . . .

Before I learned how to deal with anger, I would tear things up, tantrum for hours on end, take things that weren’t mine, and last but not least, I would refuse to do anything that my foster parents asked me to do.

Since that time I have come a very long way. I have adapted to other, positive ways to deal with angry feelings. I would:

  • Kick a tree
  • Go outside and scream
  • Write letters to people I was mad at (I normally didn’t send them!)
  • Throw a pillow in the air, and then punch it
  • Draw a tornado (I drew a tornado by scribbling exceedingly hard, in a tornado shape, letting the anger flow through my pencil onto the paper)
  • Make a list of things I was mad at, and then rip it up

Try these the next time you get angry. They really help!

Another difficult issue that popped up is people asking me personal questions. Some nosey, ignorant person would ask, “Did your parents die?” or, “Why didn’t your real family want you?” I felt insulted by this and ashamed because they reminded me of my past. I felt my past was my fault, so that brought up a sudden pang of guilt. That guilt caused me to do some things without thinking…

If I could relive that two and one half years, I would have handled my sadness over the loss of my family differently. I would:

  • Write a diary to relieve grief
  • Cry instead of keeping the grief inside
  • Draw pictures of the sad moments
  • Share my feelings with a caring adult or friend

The grieving process takes a long time and is stressful. I often felt I would never get over the loss, but time makes it easier.

Being a foster child is difficult, but learning to deal with your feelings will help you to get through it. I am still working on how to deal with leaving my biological family. Every day I have to remind myself of the positive ways to handle my emotions.

Gabby's essay took first prize, for which Gabby was awarded $100

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Keyona, age 12

I have been in foster care for a year and a couple of months. I have been in four different foster homes, Act Together Crisis Care three times, and now I am in a group home. I remember the first time I was placed in DSS custody. I was very confused because I didn’t know how to respond to it. Here is some advice on how to survive in foster care.

The first suggestion is to try not to worry about your past. Try to focus on school work, sports, and your career plans for the future. I understand that you might be pretty upset, but don’t let anger keep you from doing what you are capable of doing no matter what happens. Just keep faith and you will make it thought, I promise!

The second recommendation is try not to be mad at your parents or guardians because of the choices and decisions they made. Just try to put that behind you and keep your head held high. Do not be ashamed of your parents’ mistakes: they are only human. Everybody makes mistakes. Don’t feel like it is your fault and blame yourself because that is not your problem. Try not to stop loving your parents. Just don’t make the same mistakes that they did.

Another thing I must tell you—if it’s the only thing you remember—DO NOT RUN AWAY!

Also, people are going to talk, no matter what. So try not to let that bother you because that’s the way it is in this life. These are the four main things you should remember through your foster care journey.

Keyona's letter took second prize, for which she was awarded $50

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Angelique, age 12

I was put in foster care at the age of four years old with my brother and sister. When my social worker came I was scared, mad, and sad. My brother was ten years old and he was mad, so mad that he ran behind the door and tried to hide. My sister was just a baby. . . .

When the caseworker rung the doorbell I cried and got madder. She told us to get in the car. . . . We drove for hours. We finally got to a house. My caseworker said that we are here. When you go to your first home you may feel scared.

When we went into the house the caseworker was talking to the foster parent. She told the foster mom that she is going to take the two girls. I was mad, because I thought my brother Alton was going to stay with us too. I was very upset. I did not talk to anyone. I did not play with anything. I threw toys. Do not do that because you are just going to make things worse.

The caseworker left about 30 minutes later. I felt like yelling from the top of my lungs. We did not stay in our first placement for a long time. My sister did not really like that home either because she was acting out also, don’t do that either.

Our second placement was with a foster parent that was a teacher. We stayed with her about two years. We left there because I had some problems stealing, lying, and acting up in school. I guess I did those things because I did not want to stay there. Don’t steal or lie because it is not the right thing to do—it will be on your record. If you have a problem like me stop it at a young age. I have been in five homes. Acting out makes it hard to get a family.

My sixth placement was my final placement. When I went to visit them they said that I could go ahead and call them mommy and daddy. I was so happy because my sister and I finally had a family. I hope you do not have to go through six homes to get one family that loves you. I have two sisters, one brother, and the best parents ever.

Angelique's letter took third prize, for which she was awarded $25

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Rasheen, age 13

Dear child,
When things don’t go your way
(Keep your head up)
When you are in and out of foster home
after foster home
(Keep your head up)
Because one day you will have a family
and a place to call home
(Keep your head up)

Just when you think there are no more bright and good days in your life, and when you look around and think no one is there, look up into the sky, because my God is there. If you keep Him in your life at all times He will always look over you, and make sure you are doing fine.

Rasheen received $15 for having his letter published

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AJ, age 10

Just know God is always with you. If you keep on praying, God will sooner or later answer. Just know you will be alright. I am writing this letter to you because I want you to know that even though you’re a foster child, a lot of people still love you. Trust me, I know because I’m a foster child, too. So I know how you feel. I felt very uncomfortable, sad, and afraid.

I first went to an emergency home for just a weekend, then my placement home. Here is some advice I’d like to give to you that will help you feel better. Talk about how you feel with your social worker: she’s/he’s there to help you. Next, get to know the foster family, ask them the rules, and try to follow them. You might want to ask what are the daily routine, or responsibilities. Just know you’re in a safe palce and the people are there to help you. If you have any concerns, talk to them. Try not to be shy: introduce yourself to kids in your new neighborhood. Remember, to get a friend, you have to be a friend. Good luck.

AJ received $15 for having his letter published

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Courtney, age 18

I was in the system for 18 and a half years and then I decided to leave the system because I got tired of it. That was a bad choice I made. My advice to you is, don’t leave the system …. because once you are out, you’re out. No more coming back to it! It’s gone.

Courtney received $15 for having her letter published

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Kim, age 16

For the people like me that cannot go home—I am really sorry about that. But listen, if you can’t go home, it’s not your fault, okay? But if it helps, I know that you can do it because I believe in you. Also, a lot of people love and care for you, even if you don’t know them.

Your friend, Kim

Kim received $15 for having her letter published

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"Old School" , age 11

I was three years old when I came into foster care . . . . If you are new, you have to go with the flow until you are old enough to understand. As you get older, it is kind of your choice whether you want to go to a foster placement or not.

Give people a try and don’t judge them before you get to know them. It feels strange when you first come because you don’t know the people and it is a new surrounding. It’s been really important to me to be able to continue to visit my brothers and sisters. Right now, I’m learning how to tell good from bad. I hope that I can become an NFL football star. In order to do that I need to get a good education and have a back-up plan if I get hurt.

I am also waiting and hoping to be adopted. The wait may be long but you have to hang on.

The best advice I can give you is to do well in school so that you can impress people. Also, do your best to get along with other people in your surroundings.

"Old School" received $15 for having his letter published

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Cody, age 14

I have been a foster child for over a year. Through all this time I have been in six foster homes and one group home and one hospital. Some days I have woke up feeling like I couldn’t take the foster child life anymore. . . . I have been in homes where I felt like I was a stranger living in someone else’s home.

Through all the places I have been in I have tried to run away. After about the third time I ran away I realized no matter how much I try I can’t run away from myself. I have tried to work hard in therapy and do all I can to make me a better me. When I realized that when I make myself deal with my problems and not try to put the blame on someone else I have been able to live a happier life. . . .

If you are ever in a home and you don’t feel comfortable, talk to your social worker about moving you to another home.

This process is almost guaranteed to take time but just work with the system and don’t run away, because you can’t run away from yourself.

Your friend, Cody

Cody received $15 for having his letter published

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The preceding letters appeared in the printed version of this issue of Fostering Perspectives. To read more letters from children who are or have been in foster care, click here.

Copyright 2005 Jordan Institute for Families