by La'Sharron Davidson
For me foster care wasn't just a placement: it was a place to let go of your anger, venting it on others you don't know. It was a place for losing trust and maybe even gaining trust! Foster care was a life lesson for me. When you are in foster care you never know what will happen next!
Two Years, Two Placements
When I entered care I was 16 years old. I aged out at 18. In the two years I was in care I had two placements. My first lasted a year. My relationship with this family was so-so. Although we had our ups and downs, this family taught me how to manage life, especially when it comes to listening to and abiding by the rules. They also helped me become more independent and mature.
My second placement was at a group home. Now, when people hear "group home" they usually think it is the worst thing in the world. For me it was fun MOST OF THE TIME, though there were hardships. Living there taught me to be calm about any situations that cause conflict, and to ignore things that are irrelevant.
My placements taught me things I can use in the long term.
One of the biggest challenges about being in foster care was that I wanted more freedom, especially a chance to be with friends and see my siblings. I've always have been the type of person that loves to be around friends and family; it makes me the happiest person in the world. In foster care I didn't have too much input about seeing friends and family. There were a lot of restrictions.
There were also issues related to money and personal care. Personal care/hygiene is very important to me, but it costs money. Also, I have always loved to shop and buy certain things to fit in with my friends. However, in foster care I never had any allowance unless I worked.
This is where I started to dislike the system. I didn't want to speak to anyone--not even my friends--and I just couldn't have my way. This is when the trust started to fall out of place.
After a time, however, I figured out how to cooperate with others and let my feelings be free. Through a program called SaySo (Strong Able Youth Speaking Out) I talked with others that were in the same situation that I was. SaySo helped me get away from stress and have fun with my peers. Trust me, after being at SaySo events I never wanted to go home--it was that fun.
Eventually I looked for a job and finally found one. My first was at a fast food restaurant (Burger King) working part time. After a while I became full-time.
Then I thought to myself, "I am getting ready age out of foster care." I didn't want to sign the CARS agreement (Contractual Agreement for Continuing Residential Support) with DSS, because I didn't want to stay in foster care. I realized I had to save money to get my own place and a car. My foster parent never gave me information on how to be independent, such as making doctor appointments, budgeting, etc. I had to learn a lot of things on my own.
Supports to Help Me Succeed
I finally came across an organization called O4SA (Opportunity For Supervised Apartments). This organization was built for youth that had been in care, to help them become independent and mature. When I aged out of foster care I went to this place and talked with the landlord and the workers for O4SA. Basically you had to have income coming in every month, no criminal background, and a good apartment history. This program was also taught you how to budget. And best of all, they helped you PAY RENT!
I became close with the workers for the organization because they helped me along the way for about two years. But I never went to school--I hated school.
Then I lost my job and had a bad attitude about a lot of things because of my situation. Then two ladies, Ann Tropiano and Kristen Van Ormer, became my mentors and changed my life. They pushed me to strive for the BEST in life. I never thought I would be in the position I'm in now. But thanks to their faith in me I am the Program Assistant for SaySo.
Advice for Foster Parents
The most important thing foster parents should know is that the youth in the foster care system didn't put themselves there--we didn't ask to be there. All we want from you is sympathy, love, and a MENTOR. Mentoring is the biggest factor. You never know what a youth has been through. Don't judge a book by its cover.
Just like anyone else, we want to be loved!