My experience in the foster care and juvenile justice systems was a little rough. I came to the United States when I was two years old with only my father’s side of the family. I grew up without my mother. My father was an alcoholic. I had nobody but my grandma who was elderly. I went through a lot of physical, verbal, and mental abuse at the hands of my father, sibling, and other relatives in the house. So, when I would go outside or go to school, I would act out by fighting a lot, hanging out with the wrong group of friends, drinking, and smoking. I was placed into foster care at 12 years old for abuse and neglect. I was bounced around in plenty of different foster homes and group homes until the judge thought it would be best if they help my father bring my mother from Haiti to the United States so she can raise me.
While the judge and agency helped my mom come to America, I was still in a foster home. I had grown a detachment from my family and didn’t really want to meet my mom, even though it would be my first time ever. I felt like my mother gave me up to suffer at the hands of my father. I was placed into her custody shortly after when I was 14 and was placed right back in the system a year later. I got arrested for fighting and spent six months in juvenile detention. That was the worst time of my life. I felt hopeless. When I finally got out, I told myself I’ll never go back in so I stopped getting into trouble. I ended up meeting a guy that is 13 years older than me, and getting pregnant at 17. The foster home I was in kicked me out because I was pregnant. I was homeless and living on the street for three months while I was pregnant. When I tried to go into the homeless shelter, they told me they couldn’t take me because of my age. They instead sent me to the Administration for Children’s Services building. I went through the process of going through six different homes, even after giving birth to my child. I remember a social worker from the shelter gave me some information about being a ward of the state. With that information, I was able to use the system to get my apartment. I aged out by the time I was 19.
Now, at 24 years old, I still haven’t really healed my inner child. I still find myself crying on some days and blaming myself for how I grew up and what I’ve been through as a child and teenager. No matter where I went — a juvenile detention center, group home, or foster home — I never found anyone that actually cared. Cultivating a relationship with a parent that doesn’t care about you is really hard. It’s just as hard with social workers, case workers, judges, and attorneys. A lot of people in that field of work just do it for the money. They don’t genuinely care about what I went through or what any other child goes through in the system, especially Black and brown children. I would get arrested and have no one that was able to pick me up from the police precinct so they would put me in juvenile detention. That continued on even when I got placed into the foster care system where my foster mother didn’t even care enough to get me out.
These systems need change. They need to hire attorneys for children that can get them out of police custody. Children shouldn’t have to go through detention centers or jail just because they don’t have a parent or guardian to get them out. Judges need to require that children go through therapy and need to hire therapists that really care for children by doing a background check. These systems shouldn’t make it so easy for a person to become a foster parent, case worker or social worker. These systems need to just hire people that genuinely care. They need to hire people that will work for the children and not for the money.
Every child has a different reason for being placed in the system. Some don’t need to be placed there at all. Some children just need someone that will investigate thoroughly. There may be a relative that is willing to take the child in. Placing them with a relative may be a better fit for that child before putting them in the system with strangers. I personally feel like group homes are pointless. Group homes are like juvenile detention because they tell you when you can eat, sleep, and shower. Sometimes, you’re not even able to leave by yourself. They need to replace them with safe havens. Kids that come out of abusive households should not be introduced to institutional facilities. They should have a safe place they can go where they are able to express themselves, so caseworkers and social workers know how to place that child in the perfect home instead of just finding the next available bed.
Judges and attorneys should always go through the benefits of foster care with a child. The foster care system has a lot of resources from the states that we are not really made aware of when we go through the system. Children will end up homeless or in jail by the time they are 17 when all of that can be prevented if they knew about the proper resources. If some kids are informed of the help that comes from the state, they can have better chances to know which way they want their life to end up.