As teenagers, we all had times when we thought our parents were not listening to us, not helping us, and just blatantly ignoring us. We would usually call our grandparents or the other parent and play them against each other, getting us into even more trouble. Some of us would just leave the house and come back later that night without letting them know where we were. The sad part is that for foster youth like myself, that isn’t always an option. Foster youth have to go through different channels when they feel like their needs aren’t getting met. We either have to put up with it or tell our social workers and wait to see if they do something. Most of the time, we are told their hands are tied.
Most states have a way of helping with this problem through an Ombudsman for Foster Youth. Minnesota was not one of those states until May 2022. I helped pass the bill HF3845 in Minnesota, which gets an Ombudsman for Foster Youth. On March 18th, 2022, I testified along with two fellow fosters in front of the MN House of Finance. I almost backed out because I was scared. While I was testifying, I let some of my emotions out; it felt foreign. When I was told at the end of April that we would be finding out the days that the MN House and Senate were voting on the bill, I realized just how powerful my story and my emotions can be.
Through this process, there were nine foster youth at the House voting and 17 foster youth with their families at the Senate voting. Both resulted in less than 24 hours. During the House vote, there were 125 votes for yes and four votes for no. For the Senate vote, there were 60 votes for yes and six votes for no. While listening to the House talk, we realized one of the authors went through something similar, and that’s why there was a bipartisan vote.
With the creation of the Ombudsman office, we are able to help foster youth with accessing resources more efficiently and effectively, have an equal opportunity provided to the foster population, and help navigate the foster care system. The office will also help the Minnesota Child Welfare System by taking care of most of the complaints, helping to make the placement of foster youth more fair, and helping to prevent homelessness.
I testified on this because my story is powerful and needs to be heard. My grandparents are the only home and stability I have known. You’re probably wondering — what changed? When I was six months old, I was placed with my grandparents so I always believed they were my “parents.” My dad has his demons and rarely stayed in one place, but since he was my father, that meant I was along for the ride.
I remember, around 6 years old, my dad came and picked me up from school. Suddenly, I was living with him, and my whole world changed. I remember wondering what happened to my “parents” also known as my grandparents. I went from a loving and supportive world to an entirely different one. I suddenly had siblings, and for the very first time, I felt betrayed. My dad and step-mom moved around a lot, and any meaningful connections I made were quickly broken. I was thankful for my four siblings because they made things easier – simpler. We all experienced a lot of disruptions. When I look back at it, I’m amazed I even graduated high school, not to mention am a college student.
When I was 15, my social worker decided to place me out of the home. I was only able to go to my grandparents because there was nowhere else for me to go. It had been almost a decade since I last saw them. I remember feeling like a “normal” teenager for the first time in my life. I wondered, why did I ever have to leave them? A lot of damage was done in those 10 years. I miss my siblings so much, and I worry about them often. I would always ask if I could talk to them on the phone or see them. The answer was always “No, BUT you can see your dad anytime” or “If you see your dad, maybe you can see your siblings.” I felt so stuck. No one was listening to me. I gave up. I was never able to say goodbye. I made the decision to testify because I don’t want anyone to experience what I have been through. There are many instances where I wished I had someone to call, but for me, maintaining a connection with my siblings would have made all the difference.
Throughout this all, the one thing I learned is that you never have to answer a question you don’t want to. Your story is only powerful when you want to share it with the emotions behind it, and no one can do this alone.
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