Youth Voice Writing Contest 2022 — Finalist, Essay
A world without foster care may seem like a foreign concept or an overarching thought. But, is it? The very origin of foster care was for poor families to place their children with wealthier families as servants. When we consider this foundation, how does this manifest into a system truly rooted in empowering families? At the very least, reducing the amount of misplaced youth and strengthening families should be at the forefront of the whole “save the children” epidemic. Don’t get me wrong, there are ample experiences and situations where youth being placed outside of our nuclear home is vital for survival. But, what if we addressed the structural and socioeconomic determinants leading to the problems displacing the majority of youth in the first place?
Placement in foster care happens for a myriad of reasons, depending on the family. Some are just and some are unjust. Yet, how often do we question what systemically and structurally leads to the displacement? How often do we step back and look beyond the young mother addicted to drugs? Or the abused parent now inflicting abuse on their own? How often have we stopped to question how we can prevent foster placement in the first place? Doing so would result in having to engage in introspective and reflective conversations, which those in positions of perceived power and status quo do not typically take part in. It would mean naming that macroeconomic, public, and social policies as well as governance all add to the exacerbation of broken families in the United States. It would mean acknowledging that we’re willing to pay strangers thousands of dollars a month to take care of your child, but not adequately help and support the humans who brought you into this world, because they should already be able to do that.
Foster care and adoption efforts receive ten times more funding than efforts towards reunification. We live in a society of systems created to keep people unwell and surviving. Unwell, surviving people are returning clients. Why then would a foundation be created to assist in the curation of healthy, functioning, sustainable, and thriving families? Foster care is no different and, in fact, commonly creates an incessant cycle due to the trauma further suffered at the hands of the “saviors/system.”
A world without foster care would look like youth and children going to their other family members if other placement is needed and their families being supported in the same way that foster parents are supported financially, emotionally, and judicially. It would look like the sense of community coming back to society and addressing the structural and socioeconomic determinants that have created the very foundation for “needing” foster care. A world without foster care would be returning to being held in community, love, and accountability and being supported by mutual aid. The United States has gripped its talons into individualistic values that have perpetuated into virtually every facet of every system and the mindset of those within systems and in positions of perceived authority.
I do not know if a world without foster care will ever be attainable, but new ways and old ways of showing up for families, youth, and kin is vital for the up-and-coming generations. For some, like myself, out-of-home placement is what kept me alive, earth side. I do not know that I would have survived to see adulthood if I had not been removed from my “home.” But the systemic failures that followed my removal were, in some instances, just as harmful as the experiences I was going through in my home. I do not have a magic wand or answer for the situations where there is no family or community to call upon when a youth needs somewhere to go. But I know, too often, the option to place youth with family or community members is available and yet neglected. The amount of youth, children, and families being torn apart could be considerably reduced if there was a genuine paradigm shift from reaction and judgment to prevention, exploration and genuine connection with the families. Our families in the system are humans. We, foster youth, are humans. Once we are assigned a case number, the names of the family and child(ren) are often an afterthought. It becomes checking boxes, meeting requirements, and following guidelines — or else. We are cogs in a machine that came to fruition with the wrong intentions to begin with.