If foster care taught me anything, it was how to survive graduate school.
Growing up, I never knew what my future would look like. I had competing signals. My classmates in the Jewish community had parents who had high expectations for them. The middle-class white people in my community saved for college, talked about their careers, and went on business trips. Going home meant walking into an impoverished neighborhood of run-down rental duplexes to live with my single mother. Here, conversations about savings, careers and trips were replaced with the reality of addictions, mental health, and systemic trauma.
I thought foster care would be better. Instead, I was introduced to a failing system. Providing care with strained resources, mired by systemic racism, and consistent violence, means kids aren’t kept far from the trauma that brought them into the system in the first place.
When I endured abusive foster parents, I learned to adapt quickly, to blend in, and to speak the language of those around me.
When I navigated the shelter system and a number of couches as a homeless youth, I learned to handle high levels of stress, to identify hidden resources, and to navigate complex systems.
When I experienced family loss — separation from my twin sister and the rest of my identity — I learned the ways in which my identity and relationships are formed by the world around me.
When I had to be my own savior, I learned to be safe and comfortable within myself and how to express that.
These experiences equipped me to grow and develop my leadership, communication, advocacy, and systems-thinking skills that I use every day. Abusive placements taught me to adapt and be a fly on the wall. Homelessness gave me skills in resource identification, research, and self-assuredness. Family loss was a conduit for my own empathy and commitment to solidarity. My self-reliance taught me how not to be afraid.
My child welfare experience was less about my welfare and more about oppression and trauma. Today, youth from foster care are offered only the failures of a system of care, and not the lessons it can provide. I was lucky. Through the right mentor, an undergraduate tuition waiver, and caring allies who opened doors for me, I made it to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
We need all youth from foster care to be offered the same chances I had. I wish for a system that radically invests in every young person’s potential and offers guaranteed support well into young adulthood and the massive circle of care all youth deserve.
An apprehended kid deserves nothing more than the best possible future we can promise them.