What is foster care? What does it mean to be a foster child? When you are a foster child, what do you mean to anyone, really?
When I was in foster care, I know what I looked like to people, and I tried desperately to overcome the stigma.
When you come into someone’s home with less than the clothes on your back, you’re probably a thief.
When you join someone’s family and you have no family of your own; you’ve scared them off somehow and people should be afraid of you; after all, how bad must a kid be to force his immediate and extended family options out of his life?
When you show up on 4 different medications, you’re a psycho and should be treated like a ticking time bomb ready to go off at any minute.
WHEN you are a foster child, you are held to an impossible standard so as not to contribute to the already jaded opinion of you; an opinion that will likely have you put in another home soon.
I heard a story that broke my heart today, one that is all too common. One that I relate to as a former foster child.
I was speaking with my dear friend today, a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for over a decade. She told me about one of her CASA kids who is currently in foster care.
Today a little foster boy (we’ll call him ‘Jack’ for the story) was walking down the halls of his school and kept falling. The teacher on “hall-duty” at the time, jumped to the conclusion that Jack was doing this on purpose. She yelled at him and told him he would spend the rest of the day in “In School Suspension” (ISS).
My friend was called to the school, as his CASA, and met with him after he had been punished and isolated all day. She asked why he kept falling and if he was feeling alright.
Jack responded to her that he kept falling because his shoes were falling apart for some time now, and they were a size 5; Jack is a size 7.
She inspected the shoes and found that they were falling apart so badly that the soles were coming off entirely!
Jack told her he was just trying to get an adult to get him some duct-tape, so he would quit tripping on his shoes. He tried to tell the teachers, but they were dismissive of him, a child who is lost in a system of “what will happen to me next?” A system that does not allow social workers, CASA’s, or any other certified professionals who have the opportunity to meet these amazing children, to actually make a difference.
His CASA was frustrated because there is so much she is financially and mentally capable of doing for Jack, but indifferent regulations prevent her from doing anything but listening and giving limited advocacy. She called friends and colleagues looking for a pair of shoes to fit Jack. No luck. She decided the system wasn’t going to force her to be another disappointment to this beautiful child; being a former foster child herself, she knew all to well the tumultuous path ahead of him and wanted to do just one thing that might give him hope!
She went to a nearby shoe store and purchased him a brand new pair of ADIDAS shoes; that fit him perfectly!
His foster parent doesn’t enjoy Jack being at the house, so she keeps him at after school programs until 8pm every night. His CASA found him at one of his after-care programs and presented him with the shoe box.
His face lit up in disbelief! He couldn’t believe someone would actually buy him a new pair of shoes, fresh in the box! He put the shoes on and danced around the room in them. He couldn’t believe how well they fit and how fast he could run in them. His heart, for this special moment in his tortured life, was full and being loved back.
Jack has a brand new pair of shoes, that actually fit him, and they were not purchased with the money his foster parent receives every month for basic needs, they were purchased by an altruistic CASA who now faces the risk of losing her VOLUNTEER position.
These are the things we need to talk about. Foster Children deserve a voice; and I intend on being that for them!