Five Black women share the essence of sisterhood on a new podcast launched last month, where they discuss growing up, marginalized, within a fractured child welfare system. “Diaries of a Black Girl in Foster Care” is believed to be the first of its kind, the brainchild of a former foster youth-turned scholar and policy expert.
Ma’Khia Bryant — a 16-year-old Black girl fatally shot last year by a white Columbus, Ohio police officer outside her foster home — inspired the podcast’s creation. Her killing sparked grief and outrage nationwide.
But for Tashia Roberson-Wing, a student pursuing her master’s degree in social work and public administration at Ohio State University, it brought on reflections of her own struggles in foster care.
“I literally felt like it could have been me,” Roberson-Wing told The Imprint. “It could have been my sister.”
Shortly after the April 20, 2021 shooting, Roberson-Wing left for a summer policy internship on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. While working with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute on legislative proposals to improve foster care, she confronted a “one-size-fits-all” approach to child welfare policy, which tend to exclude Black girls’ unique experiences from key conversations.
During her internship, Roberson-Wing developed a policy recommendation directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to publicly disaggregate its child welfare data by race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. The policy she proposed also called on the Biden administration to create a federally funded National Girls Initiative to research and provide assistance to states. The initiative would be modeled after the program created by former President Barack Obama’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which focused on the needs of girls.
Roberson-Wing’s proposal was included in a briefing book shared with the executive branch and members of Congress. But Roberson-Wing, 28, didn’t want to wait on Congress to act.
The podcast idea came next, and she chose four Black women with lived experience to co-host. The audio show — which can now be heard on Spotify, Youtube and Facebook Live — explores the intersectionality of Black girls and child welfare.
“We’re hoping that by working on this podcast and sharing our stories, we raise awareness about ‘adultification bias’ and we identify problems and outcomes that may occur with Black girls’ experiences,” Roberson-Wing said. “I also want to make sure that I’m not presenting this information from a deficit lens — but show the beauty of our Blackness.”
The show’s co-hosts include Kaysie Getty, a senior program analyst at the Center for the Study of Social Policy; Amnoni Myers, author of “You Are the Prize!;” consultant Alexandria Ware; and Ángela Quijada-Banks, author of “The Black Foster Youth Handbook.”
The five women all spent time in foster care. They range in age from their late 20s to early 30s, and they live in cities across the country, from Washington, D.C., to Kansas.
Over the next six months, the podcast hosts will cover a range of issues — from transracial adoptions to an episode on deconstructing resiliency.
The first hour-long episode, which aired Feb. 23 on the group’s Facebook account, explored the notion of empowerment, which isn’t a word heard often growing up in the foster care system, the hosts relayed. They drew strength from therapy, and from leaning on peers. Episode two airs Wednesday.
Podcast host Quijada-Banks said she had no hope and felt powerless when she entered foster care at age of 16. A therapist, Regina Gavin-Williams, finally allowed her space to be completely vulnerable, and to speak about her traumas without judgment.
“To have someone, after I said all of that, look at me and say: ‘You’re still worthy of continuing in your life, whatever your dreams are, you can do them. That is extremely empowering,” Quijada-Banks told the audience.
Myers chimed in, that seeing yourself as part of a larger collective, is also a key part of healing: “Our sense of empowerment comes from each other because we recognize that we’re not alone,” she said. “And that for me is empowerment in itself.”
Myers dedicates her advocacy efforts on behalf of other foster youth to her mother, who she said was unfit to raise her because of drug and alcohol abuse. She wants more attention paid to the underlying issues faced by Black women and their daughters — who too often “fall through the cracks of the system.”
According to a 2017 report by the National Women’s Law Center, Black girls comprise 23% of all girls in foster care, and just 15% of the general population. They are also the demographic group most likely to be constantly uprooted. More than one-third of Black girls in foster care are sent to between 10 and an astounding 99 residential homes, federal data show.
The law center also found that girls in foster care — who are disproportionately Black and Native American — are more likely to experience sexual abuse, exposure to violence, and other forms of maltreatment. They are more likely to be criminalized for acting out that trauma, leading to expulsion from school and at times incarceration.
Scholars have also confirmed what many know from lived experience: The outside view of Black girls is too often a harmful stereotype — that they are less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, even at young ages.
“The number one thing that I really want to convey through this podcast, is that when it comes to Black girls, it should not be a privilege to be perceived as innocent,” Roberson-Wing said.
Other disturbing stats point to the urgent need for more focused support for Black girls in foster care. The work of Monique W. Morris, author and creator of the documentary film “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools,” is cited in a 2017 Georgetown Law Center report focused on 5- to 14-year-olds. The report documented how Black girls are “likened more to adults than to children” and “treated as if they are willfully engaging in behaviors typically expected of Black women.”
The podcast’s Ware has first-hand experience of this; a doctor once told her as a young teen, that she needed to be put on birth control.
“I wasn’t sexually active, and I wasn’t even interested in boys,” she said. “I was only interested in graduating high school and going on to college.”
In her work, Morris has described teachers as more likely to punish Black girls for “perceived loud and un-ladylike behavior that challenged their authority.” She cited other studies noting that “Black girls are under greater surveillance of their decorum than their white peers.” They are all too often dehumanized, criminalized and subject to “adultification,” unfairly perceived as a threat, she writes.
In foster care, “we just make young Black girls grow up so fast, we don’t see them as innocent and we don’t see them as little kids,” Ware said. “We see them as grown.”
In many parts of the country, Black women are poorly represented among foster parents, attorneys and judges managing their lives, exacerbating children’s struggles and alienation. Ware, for example, spent 11 years in the foster care system and said she could count on one hand the number of times she had Black foster parents.
As a dark-skinned girl living with white families, she said she was rarely told she was beautiful. And no one taught her how to wrap her hair, or cook Cajun food — life essentials for a girl being raised outside her home and culture.
Growing up in Kansas, “I was that little kid who never saw anyone who looked like me,” Ware said.
The hosts of the “Diaries” podcast want to use their experiences as a platform for others to express what it means to be Black and evolving in the child welfare system. With listeners calling in and sending messages for broadcast, they hope to give young girls the opportunity to share, and to have their opinions, thoughts and feelings validated.
Ware also wants listeners to know how powerful recovering from the trauma of foster care can be.
“Never did I think growing up in foster care and moving to all those foster homes, that me and my friends would be starting a podcast telling the state and the federal government, this is what happened to us as Black women in the child welfare system,” Ware said. “And y’all are gonna hear us, because people are excited and ready for this.”
Eventually, Roberson-Wing aims to build a website for the podcast, allowing experts in child welfare across the country to weigh in on what they are doing to combat and address the challenges of Black girls in foster care. The site would also serve as an online resource page.
In the meantime, listeners can just sit back and feel supported and loved, the podcast hosts said.
“Young girls going through foster care, they are not alone,” Ware said. “You got some ‘aunties’ who are gonna be there for you, who will advocate for you, who have your back. Just know there are people out there who care about you, and are passionate about seeing the system change.”
Correction: Kaysie Getty’s name was misspelled in the original publishing of this article.