As a college graduate and working professional, foster care agencies and foster parents assume that I am completely self-sufficient after leaving the foster care system. The truth is that I struggle with maintaining a functional life for myself. Most struggling young adults can enlist the primary support of their parents. But young adults coming out of foster care do not always have that primary support, making it much more difficult during those transitional periods. According to research compiled by Foster Care to Success, less than 10 percent of foster youth have gone to college and have been able to graduate. Those college graduates may still need to rely on other means of assistance that can be inconsistent such as temporary government aid and undependable family networks. Like any other college graduate finding their way, there is a probability that I will need help along this journey. In the past, having to turn to those means in between jobs have made me feel like a failure. So in order to avoid the feeling of failure, I have created a margin of error for myself where I’ve adopted a preventative method that keeps me and my two children safe and well taken care of.
It’s a holistic approach that not only seeks to address my mental health needs but also creates a strategic foundation for the legacy I leave to my children. I create loosely based requirements and constantly assess my progress as an adult. Although I am always critical of myself based on my own metric system of success, I give myself a little bit of grace.
That said, I still struggle emotionally, mentally and financially. I have struggled for years with short-term and long-term memory loss due to the trauma that I experienced. In work environments, I initially struggled to keep up professionally with my peers during the early part of my career. But it wasn’t due to lack of motivation or not trying. I was overwhelmed with adapting to a new environment. I just didn’t feel like I fit in with colleagues. Individuals who have worked to create a life for themselves after foster care may feel out of place, like I did.
As adults, our responsibility is to address the trauma and create systems that produce success on the terms that we deem important. Specifically, my terms were to examine the margin of error within my life and the lives of my children so that we don’t have to depend on others to meet our basic needs. In order to do so, I needed to create a sense of stability, community, self-worth and responsibility so that the effects of my traumatic experiences are addressed during my lifetime and would not move on to affect my children as well.
I am a second generation foster child, meaning that not only was I in foster care but so was my mother. We both struggled with mental health concerns. My mental health concerns are a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and lack of emotional support during my time in foster care. Throughout my childhood, my emotional needs were never addressed. Some of the effects of that emotional neglect have carried into adulthood. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have the tools to navigate situations that require emotional intelligence. Those are the times when I offer myself grace. I acknowledge the ability to do better in those moments as I learn to develop the emotional attunement skills that I need. Regardless, my coping methods have helped me to heal and get the results that I want for myself.