When I was in my fourth foster home at 14 years old, my foster mom and a social worker sat me and my four other foster sisters down at the dining room table for a discussion. The social worker told us that our foster mom had decided that, if we were going to be allowed to live in her home, we would need to be on birth control. “I don’t want any of your babies,” our foster mom explained further.
My foster sisters were generally indifferent about the decision, but I didn’t want to comply. “I don’t plan on having sex until marriage,” I said.
They laughed in my face before my foster mom became very serious. “Unless you want to move to a different foster home, you’re going to be on birth control,” she said.
I was anxious about taking medications due to past traumas, which was another reason I shared with them why I didn’t want to be on birth control. But I was met, once again, with an ultimatum – birth control or move out. At 14 years old, I had already felt like I lost everything. At that point, I felt that I was also losing my right to make choices regarding my own body. I felt dehumanized and incredibly defeated.
I ended up taking birth control by receiving a shot that was supposed to stop my period for 12 weeks. It took me over a year with countless medications and another birth control treatment to actually get my period to return. A few years later, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. With every painful flare-up, I’ve been reminded of the control I had lost over my body at such a young age. According to California Welfare and Institutions Code section 16001.9, if you are 10 years old or older, you are allowed to “review your case plan and plan for permanent placement” and “to receive information about your out-of-home placement and case plan, including being told of changes to the plan.” If, at 10 years old, you are legally allowed to be involved in the development of your own case plan, then, at 14 years old, you should have a say in your own reproductive health.
In a former foster youth support group on Facebook, I recently came across a post where a fifteen-year-old was asking for advice. She shared that her foster mom was making her start birth control, even though she didn’t want to. She wrote that her social worker and attorney were seemingly in support of the foster mom’s decision, ignoring her own right to make decisions regarding her body. In a “Know Your Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights” brochure provided by California’s Department of Social Services, it states that “you [as a foster youth] have the right to make your own decision about…female or male birth control or protection.” Additionally, California Welfare and Institutions Code section 16001.9 states that foster youth have the right to live in a safe environment and the right to be healthy and receive proper medical care. A safe environment should involve foster youth having a say in what happens to their body while they’re living there. Evidently, that isn’t the case for plenty of youth who are in foster care across the country. This issue needs to be brought forward and talked about frequently and passionately, so that the rights of foster children are not being infringed upon without repercussions. When a social worker supports a foster parent who decides to force the youth in their care to receive a medical treatment like birth control, they are essentially saying that it’s more important to them that the foster parents feel supported than the children who are in their care.
Birth control and any other non-consensual medical treatment should not be mandatory for youth in foster care. Decisions regarding foster youth’s bodies and their reproductive health should not be up to anyone but themselves. There are rights set in place to protect these young people from abuse, neglect, and maltreatment. The act of refusing to uphold any of these rights is abuse. These youth in foster care need the adults in their lives to do better, especially the professionals who have been assigned to them in their most vulnerable moments.