Love on the Frontlines of Foster Care

The coronavirus restrictions have revived unwelcome feelings from Annie Marek-Barta’s past in foster care. Photo courtesy of Marek-Barta

Hi, my name is Annie. I’m 27 years old, an age I honestly didn’t think I’d ever live to become. I was placed in foster care at the age of 17, though it should’ve happened much earlier. I was a victim of ongoing abuse and neglect in my home. I was threatened to stay silent. I was forced to keep the torture secret. I never thought I’d get out.

Mandatory reporters in my life were the silent heroes I needed because without me knowing, they called DHS to report my situation. Their calls were the key to getting me out of the situation I thought I would always be captive in. It’s because of their diligence in being the eyes, ears, and mouths of vulnerable children that I didn’t die at the hands of abuse.

I aged out without permanence, left without resources or the care I needed to do life independently, so I signed myself voluntarily into the foster care system until I was 22 years old. Everyday things were a challenge. I felt so behind in life. The emotional turmoil weighed so heavily upon me as people walked in and out of my life and as the title of “foster kid” was slapped upon me. I felt only known as a case number, a statistic, and a stereotype. I felt forgotten, overlooked and unseen, all while trying to heal and survive as each day passed.

Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there. At the age of 26, I was legally adopted by the couple who stepped in as my primary nurturers when I aged out of the system. It’s people like my parents who’ve given me hope that there are many out there willing to love beyond limits. It’s because of them that I’ve been able to thrive on a healing journey.

My fear of actually getting the COVID-19 has been low. What has gripped me, though, has been the changing of everyday luxuries, freedoms and routine. I’ve been overcome with emotion as these constrictions have brought up many feelings of my past as a foster child: the constant change, the rules, the unknown and the limit of being near the ones I love. I have been craving familiarity in the face of feeling like all that I’ve known can be taken away from me. Being in foster care caused me to experience a sequence of revolving doors, of ever-changing realities, and of a fear of the unknown.

I serve as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) and my in-person visits have also been restricted due to COVID-19. There isn’t a day that passes where my heart isn’t broken for the many children in foster care who are now facing another level of trauma, the children who are now stuck at home with abusive parents and out of the view of mandatory reporters, the youth who’ve aged out and counted on their college housing for a home, and the many former foster youth who are reliving the crippling weight of the unknown.

As a former foster youth, a daughter and an advocate, I have been shaken to the core by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it hard to stay grounded, informed, and at peace. I’ve had to put in the work to not let my emotions consume me. I’ve had to remind myself that the goodness in my life isn’t stolen by what is happening around me. I’ve had to remember that though I can’t fix, save, or change the life of every foster child/former foster youth, I can start by loving the ones in front of me. I’ve had to remember me – who I was back then, who I needed, and how I can be that for those around me.

Annie Marek-Barta is a former foster youth who spent five years in the system before aging out. At the age of 26, she was adopted as an adult in Washington, displaying the truth that we never outgrow the need to belong. She now volunteers as a court-appointed special advocate and works as a freelance photographer and graphic designer in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Her heart is to advocate for the foster care and adoption realms and to see seats added to tables as the lonely are invited to belong.

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