Out of everything I have learned from foster care, I know that only children who live through the experience can truly understand what it feels like to be raised by the state rather than your biological parents. Unfortunately, many youth in the foster care system do not have happy endings, but it’s important to share the success stories.
When I was 3 years old, my 12-year-old sister, 2-year-old brother, months-old sister and I were exposed to the foster care system for the first time. My older sister had run away looking for shelter, a cooked meal and safety from abuse. Our mother and the father of my younger siblings and I were both homeless, addicted to drugs and abusive with four children. After shortly being in foster care, my paternal grandparents took in my two younger siblings and I. I grew up with them my entire childhood. Years later, we received two more siblings, who also were later placed under the guardianship of my grandparents.
In my early years of being in guardianship, I learned that it was unconventional, but at an early age I knew that it wasn’t the worst place to be. Over the years, I never felt comfortable with identifying as a foster youth, considering I lived in a house with my five siblings and my grandparents. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where I had the same peers from elementary school all the way until high school. I went to family gatherings on holidays and never changed addresses or schools.
Living with my grandparents, I had the option to not identify as a foster youth. I always felt that identifying as a foster youth would take away from the struggles of foster youth who did not have a secure address and family. Out of all of my siblings, only one of us endured the horrors of foster care. From the age of 12 until her emancipation, my oldest sister was placed in several unhealthy foster and group homes. When I saw cases like hers, I would question my identity as a foster youth, and when the cases of my siblings and I were closed and categorized as kinship care, it confused things even more.
Fast forwarding to today, I have reconnected with my oldest sister and we have a great relationship. She owns her experience and never expected that I would be ashamed to have a different experience from her. All in all, I learned that both of our experiences were not the best, but it doesn’t mean one was worse than the other. With this understanding, I have learned how to validate my experiences, both good and bad.
Society teaches us that “typical foster youth” all have the same experiences. For a long time, I played into those stereotypes. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I noticed the difficulties I was having transitioning into adulthood. Even then, I learned that foster youth have their experiences at different times in their lives, and the way that I experience trauma may be completely different than others.
I have chosen to share my story so that I can encourage foster youth from all walks of life to validate their experiences. Remember that your past does not define you. Whether you are in foster care, a group home or kinship care, know that you can be successful without feeling like you are taking an opportunity from someone else. Your path is only yours to follow, and you are destined for greatness.