The fight for my life began on the day the obstetrician told my biological mother to “push.” Once she pushed, the war began. I was an infant in battle. I had to fight to live. I had to fight to win. I had to fight to stay alive. Breathing wasn’t easy. The medical machines pumped oxygen into me to keep me alive and warm. I was born prenatally exposed to meth. According to the county social worker papers that were saved by my foster family, I experienced tremors, stiff muscles, wakefulness, irritability, speech problems and failed to thrive. As a result, I was also diagnosed with a congenital heart condition and facial paralysis.
For me, meth became the pernicious thief that stole my home, my sense of belonging and, at times, my well-being. Being placed in a foster home saved me. Though foster parenting is not for everyone, I couldn’t imagine a world without the protection of the foster care system. What this meant for me was court, permanency hearings, and the hope of being placed in a loving family. I was in the same home from birth to 3. Suddenly, my first foster parents told the social workers that they were too old to care for me. I was removed from their care. Then, the shuffling began. At 9, after being adopted, I was placed back in the foster care system because my adoptive mom had a few issues and was not able to care for me. After being placed in three additional foster homes, I was placed back with the lady that initially adopted me after she got the help that she needed.
Growing up without your biological family is both challenging and defining. The reality that I may never meet my five siblings who are all in different foster homes is tough. I learned valuable lessons while in the foster care system. I learned to always be ready to relocate at any time because you never know if a foster parent will have a circumstance that would prevent them from fostering you. Every foster child wants a place to “belong.” But the foster care system cannot guarantee a stable home. There are numerous complaints against the foster care system. But I believe the good outweighs the bad. Every social worker is not negligent. There are many social workers that are both competent and capable. I was fortunate to have competent social workers that advocated for me. Because of them, I am who I am today.
For me, the foster care system is valuable. It is the bridge that helped me to build my life. The resources that the foster care system provides for me have helped my development. I am stronger now at 24 than I have ever been. I have surpassed my expectations and the expectations of those who know me. In March 2020, while being quarantined, I conquered one of my fears: pursuing higher education. I did not go to college after high school because I did not believe I could be successful. I enrolled in a certificate program. Despite not knowing the educational background of my biological family, I challenged myself. I enrolled in college in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic. I had to remind myself that this is my life and not the lives of my birth mother or father. No one has to believe in me, but I do need to believe in myself. I have learned to support myself. My life has completely transformed.
Defining “special needs” in foster care continues to be a conversation that is problematic. The fact that I was a “special needs” case exasperated my situation even more. I often pondered: “Why am I different?” In March 2021, I surveyed 65 potential adoptive parents worldwide online through my organization, My Voice Speaks. Out of all of the survey participants, 49 potential adoptive parents stated they could not handle a “special needs” child. When I asked for reasons behind their statements, six people stated that “special needs” children have too many behavior problems. I immediately reflected back on my teachers’ remarks on my elementary school report cards. All of my teachers wrote that I was a pleasure to have in class. I was never sent to the principal’s office for any behavior issues.
Twenty-three out of the 65 potential adoptive parents said that they want a “normal child,” not a “special needs” child. Some of the reasons why potential parents said they did not want to adopt “special needs” kids were:
1. “I want a healthy baby.”
2. “Special needs kids would be a threat to my other kids.”
3. “I wouldn’t feel safe in my own house.”
4. “Special needs kids won’t be able to get a job or get married.”
5. “I would never adopt a special needs child because they would drive me nuts.”
Responses like this give me the motivation to fight for “special needs” kids. In 2018, I was selected by the National Youth Foster Care Institute to fight for foster care reform. I wrote a letter to Congress to propose a solution that can increase the number of adoptions of “special needs” children and teens in the foster care system. I, like many “special needs” children, longed for the love of a family, and was instead placed in a group home. Kids, like myself, who are considered “hard to adopt” in the system continually become agitated, angry, and frustrated because it is difficult for them to understand why no one wants them. They become teenagers and even more difficult to adopt. Though there is support and aftercare for “special needs” teens who age out of the system, nothing compares to the warm and nurturing love of a family. Give them a chance to shine. The foster care system is not all bad. But when improvements can be enacted to benefit the child, especially “special needs” children and teens, it is worth the fight.