Being in care, as a Foster youth of color, until my 18th birthday was hard enough. I never felt like I had enough resources or support compared to other youth. I was told things like I could only get clothing allowances once and that other resources were hard to get. But these weren’t the only obstacles I had to overcome. I became a mother while I was in foster care. I was never supported as a Foster who was also a parent. After having my second child when I was 17, the county said they couldn’t find a place for me and my kids to live together. My two sons were in a separate foster placement while I was in a group home. I started being pressured by my social worker to put my second son up for adoption because it would be easier to find a foster home for me and one child.
When I turned 18, I wasn’t connected to extended foster care resources, and I became homeless. The system didn’t support me with any resources to find housing or have financial stability as I transitioned out of a group home. Even though homelessness is not a reason for removal in Minnesota, I had a child protection case opened against me as a parent. After a few months, I was heavily encouraged by my public defender to sign a “voluntary” Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) because I was given promises of an open adoption. I have not been allowed to see my sons in any manner since that TPR. That was yet another broken promise made by the system, and I have not seen my sons in seven years.
Feeling unsupported and grieving the loss of my sons, my mental health took a toll. I became someone I was ashamed of and was chronically homeless. I blocked out a lot of my time in care to cope. It took me years to become attuned with my mental health needs and healing journey and for my future to become clear again. I am parenting my daughter with confidence, love and kindness. Being a mother to three amazing children is the reason why I am able to stand strong and be heard for many young mothers facing the same grief!
Now that I am in a place to look back on my foster care experience, I’ve had a lot of questions arise. I wonder why my guardians ad litem (GAL) didn’t actually visit me, yet reported in court on my behalf. I wonder why when a foster parent was grooming me to the point that I ran away for my safety, no one in the system asked why I ran away – they just labeled me a “bad kid.” I have younger family members currently in care, and I see the resources available to them and other youth are more than I received not even a decade ago. It really comes down to one’s caseworker. Learning more about the foster care system and what should be available, it is clear my county has a lot of resources that they just don’t distribute equitably. It’s clear the requirements for transition planning when I aged out of care and reunification support with my sons were not met. I am now able to ethically attack the faults in the system and explore how the county failed me, and how my two sons became their next easy target.
So many Fosters, including me, face trauma. But, instead of being supported, we are often branded with mental health issues and documented as defiant and uncooperative in our files. For Fosters who become parents, it feels like it’s all too easy for a social worker to just deem us “unfit” and target us. Because I was not supported as a parent while I was still in care, the system never gave me a chance to “prove” that I could be a good mother – something I shouldn’t have had to do in the first place.
My story is not the only one. Fosters are often more likely than our peers to become young parents, and the lack of systematic support is a bigger issue than you all may think. The same level of resources and support should be given to everyone who is involved with Child Protective Services, regardless of their age, mental health diagnostics, the color of their skin, or family trauma. The Department of Human Services does indeed have the resources and the outlets to help ensure young mothers break the cycle with their families. But, too often, they refuse to take the time to help with prevention tools, which can cause more innocent children to fall victim to the corrupt system.
This could be different. The system could choose to support Fosters who are parents and support family stability and reunification if they treated us like other parents. They could choose to provide us with education and guidance and give us models and support so we don’t have to learn how to be parents on our own and then be punished when we don’t know how to do it all. They could choose to provide additional support for parenting Fosters and make sure we all have extended foster care. If I had that, I wouldn’t have been homeless at 18.
If I had been given support as a Foster and as a parent, all the goals I had for myself at 18 would have come true. Instead, the county held me back. They took so much from me, and I am still recovering from the harm and trauma they caused. Fosters who are parents deserve second chances, especially when some of us were never lucky enough to get our first.
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