As Foster Care Awareness Month approaches, I am reminded about the narratives we tell about people who experienced foster care. We often use this prickly word “resilient” in those stories.
I want to complicate and push back on the notion of what it means to be resilient. Because it is not so much that we are born resilient, it is more so that foster youth must become resilient, born into a circumstance that requires them to be. Celebrating the resilience of foster youth is not a problem, but not interrogating the systems in place that require them to be resilient, is.
Not all foster youth are able to just simply overcome their challenging circumstances, not alone at least. We have to show up for them; after all, that is the social contract we made when we removed children out of their home of origin.
I remember emancipating from foster care and leaving for college. I had this sense of urgency that I always had to be doing something, and whatever that something was, I had to do it perfectly. This was a response to anxiety and fear. This was a response to feeling alone — like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
What is often under-discussed and over-simplified are the things that make foster youth “successful.” A part of what drove me (and to some degree still does today) was a response to my trauma. A part of me was always hustling because I was afraid to sit still and deal with the ways in which foster care dehumanized me and my family. Also, going to college without family privilege, without the safety net of a nuclear family, meant I did not have much room to mess up.
Growing up, adults would say all the time that I was “so mature” for my age. Now that I am older, and hindsight is 20/20, I say, thank the trauma. As a child in foster care, I experienced multiple traumas before I was 10, so I quickly had to think like I was 20 in order to survive. The maturity adults fawned over was me growing up too quickly.
There is a deleterious impact that being in survival mode has on the body and mind. Trauma lives in the body in a way that can have a serious impact on our lives. I say this to say, needing to be resilient, is because of a system (foster care) that has been built to dehumanize children and their families.
Many folks are engaging in a sort of cognitive dissonance, or even a willful ignorance, that enables this behavior to persist. We cannot keep ringing the resilience rally bell without a critical examination as to why foster youth are in constant survival mode. We can’t keep celebrating “resilience” if we are not actively removing the systems in place that are marginalizing people who have experienced foster care.
Yes, Foster Care Awareness Month should be about celebrating the beauty and brilliance of young people who experience foster care and all that they have accomplished. But we should also be raising awareness of:
- The systemic racism in child welfare
- The surveillance of Black families via the family regulation system
- The ways in which child welfare institutions enact neo-colonization by continuing to remove Indigenous children from their families and land
- The ways in which young people are not provided the necessary support upon emancipation from the system, to name a few
Until we do this, we are not bringing real awareness; we are not telling foster youth we actually care for them. Rather, we are trying to be saviors and participating in performative allyship. Awareness needs to include the full spectrum of the experiences foster youth face.