Youth Voice partnered with Foster Advocates, an organization in Minnesota dedicated to fostering advocacy, policy change, and organizing with and for Fosters statewide. They envision a Minnesota where Foster voices are respected and community expertise is sought in every aspect of the child welfare system. We offered their 2021 Fellows a workshop to teach writers how to construct an opinion piece to share their stories and experiences.
The writers hope to empower others with similar lived experiences and inspire lawmakers to change policies that affect them. Here is a collection of stories from four former foster youth as they shine a light on their experiences and how it shaped their growth as former foster youth in Minnesota.
Throughout my time in foster care, one thing that rang true was the bond I had with my two biological brothers. We were taken from our home when I was 14 and my younger brother was 8. Unfortunately, my older brother had turned 18 and was not placed with us. My younger brother and I did everything together for the next three years while in a Minnesota foster home with the woman I now consider my mom. In 2016, we were both moved to Georgia to be placed with our biological aunt. I decided that this wasn’t right for me, and returned to my former foster parents.
My brother, however, loved it in Georgia. I, of course, wasn’t going to keep him from a good placement, so I made the hard decision to move back to Minnesota without him. However, for quite some time, my aunt would not allow me to have any contact with my younger brother. Because he was such an important person in my life, this challenge was more difficult than anything I had ever experienced.
We found what worked for us: I found my forever home in Minnesota when my mom took legal transfer of guardianship for me, and my younger brother stayed in Georgia. Throughout these past five years, despite the distance, my brothers, along with many others, have been my support system without even knowing it.
Fast forward to now, seven years after I was initially placed in foster care. My family and I want to make my adoption legal when I turn 21, because a legal transfer of guardianship isn’t technically an adoption. However, we have run into a problem. Minnesota statute on adult adoption (259.241 (c)) says: “The decree of adoption establishes a parent-child relationship between the adopting parent or parents and the person adopted, including the right to inherit, and also terminates the parental rights and sibling relationship … with the adult person’s birth parents and siblings.” Suddenly I had to worry about severing ties with my biological siblings if I was adopted — something that is not the case for those under 18.
Running into something like this after being out of the foster care system for some time was a punch to the heart. My brothers mean the world to me, and so does “legally” becoming my mom’s child. I understand terminating parental rights, but not legally cutting ties with my siblings.
I faced many challenges while in foster care. Now that I am about to be legally adopted as a young adult, facing yet another obstacle is frustrating, to say the least. My biological brothers and I will continue to have a relationship — no matter what the official language says.
My name is Jamari. I am from North Minneapolis — born and raised. My goal is to raise awareness about the impact of the foster care system on youth and ways we can effectively listen and support fosters.
I came from a huge household. When it comes to foster care, watching a big household get divided can be scary. The fact that something could split all of us up was deeply traumatic. Experiences in my childhood — limited opportunities, negative effects resulting from the trauma of the foster care system — gave rise to my passions, motivating the missions I believe in today.
When I was in fifth grade, I connected with the Minnesota Youth Congress just before entering foster care. That group assisted me in attending meetings for which I was paid, (providing free cab rides, among other supports) and in developing the ability to make important decisions with other youth of my city. I was also able to connect with others in foster care and even meet the mayor of Minneapolis. Unlike in foster care, in the Minnesota Youth Congress I fully felt and understood the power of being heard.
In the foster system, I always felt disadvantaged. Add any other factor in there, such as being a minority or experiencing poverty, and one’s confidence gets destroyed — as happens for many foster youth in my community. Youth Congress helped me counter that experience by creating spaces for youth to advocate for ourselves amongst adults and provide the opportunity to positively affect our own lives and the lives of our peers. It is essential that foster youth are provided such platforms as well as agency and decision-making power within them.
When foster youth are forced into situations with people and issues that they are not responsible for and, most times, don’t understand, it has a lasting impact on their mental health. One of the biggest changes we need from child welfare professionals is a greater consideration of the emotions of foster youth.
Our voices are just as important as anyone else’s, and we need to try and come up with a platform for foster youth to connect and express their needs. Many of our youth feel like they’re being ignored, and they sense a disconnect between themselves and those who run the foster care system.
The lives of foster youth have to be a priority. This starts with us as a community understanding the impact that the foster care system has on our youth over the course of their time in care — and beyond. The gap between the fosters and the resources they need is at risk of getting larger if we don’t prioritize our youth.
The foster care system is not set in stone. Many pieces of the system have only been around for the past 20 years or less, like extended foster care. There is still a lot of work to be done to build a system that foster youth can feel comfortable growing and expressing themselves within.
I’ve been involved in a lot of advocacy over the years, currently on the Community Board of Foster Advocates in Minnesota. The aim of my advocacy is to get an audience to be considerate when thinking about foster youth with limited opportunities— and experiencing the effects of trauma. The foster care experience can be described as traumatic, emotionally and sometimes physically. To move forward we must work together to create a safe space for our foster youth to grow up in, and we must take action. We must ask them what they need, and provide the necessities.
It can be hard for people to understand how much trauma the foster system can bring upon the children who experience it—children who must live through a situation they didn’t choose or create. Some never recover from it. I am aware that healing takes time, but you know you’re healing when ready to help others.
The last thing we want is for foster children to feel neglected. They should never feel unwanted, or like their voices are not being heard. We should want them to feel like they have just as much opportunity as those who grew up in traditional households. We have an obligation to set them up for the best future possible.
There’s a lyric by Tupac that goes something like this: “There’s gonna be some stuff you gonna see that’s gonna make it hard to smile, but through whatever you see, through all the rain and all the pain, you gotta be able to smile through all the bullshit.”
As a young, evolving woman, I believe in this. My life didn’t start out picture perfect. I went through some real trials and tribulations as a young biracial girl who fought through the foster care system. Some of those experiences even make me contemplate my own existence to this day.
Around age 3, I was taken from my birth mother. After our child welfare case was opened, the state had so many requirements— but didn’t provide support. My mom struggled to make ends meet, and persevered to meet those requirements and then some. But it was no use. With short notice, my sister and I were tragically taken from her and placed into foster care. I was 3 years old and my oldest sister was 6, so I depended on her for everything.
I can’t recall all the stories from the foster home, but from hearing from those close to me and occasionally being reminded through flashbacks, I know that it was a horror story. I found out years later that I shared a room with six other girls and had ringworm once and lice twice. Later on, my biological mother showed me pictures of bruises from beatings across my skin.
They called off all visitation rights with my mother. We were adopted out a while later. Being troubled, I had no idea what I was about to experience—as if the foster system wasn’t bad enough! My adoptive mom ended up being very controlling and manipulative. She held me back from a lot of my own freedom as her way of punishment, but her “punishments” were quite abnormal. She once put me in a diaper and placed me outside, on a cold day, in an area between the house and garage. She supposedly stuck me out there because I told my adoptive dad that I wished to go back to the foster home. Because of that, my mom refused to let me come back into the house until I apologized. And because my 8-year-old self was so determined, I refused. I remember my toes turning purple and soft from the frost.
I got into trouble countless times at school. I often didn’t listen to or agree with what my teachers had to say. A lot of the time, I just wanted to have a safe haven where I could vent and let go—yet this was never possible because I was seen as troublesome and “too much.” I struggled with self-esteem and was often bullied because of it.
This is a snapshot of my experience. After adoption, there was no supportive care from the state for myself and my sister. People think adoption is a happy ending for all fosters, but that often isn’t the case. There should be continued support for youth and families, both immediately after adoption, and ongoing, to ensure no other youth goes through what I experienced.
Growing up in chaotic environments alters your morals and understanding. Your perception and perspective are based on a fight-or-flight response, not what’s right or wrong. Seeing through the lens of survival creates barriers against oneself, hindering the ability to create and learn proper morals and values.
Being 15 years old when I went into the foster care system, my life and my understanding were never based on what was right or wrong in a situation — it was all about how I could get through a situation.
I was trying to survive and come through with the expectation that there was a purpose for my life. I just wanted to make it out of the storms and the depression. Trapped in generational poverty, systematic oppression, and broken homes, it’s hard to get ahead as a Black man, especially in foster care.
This is what happens when you see nothing but poverty and violence from birth. I don’t need a degree to tell you that you will adapt to your environment. “By any means” was the phrase that defined who I was as a person. I now understand that phrase also defined the roots I came from. I fought against everything that was ever placed against me.
What I find the most intriguing is how my childhood friends, who had the same ambitions as I did, went down a totally different path. I partially understand it. I was able to find a group of people who cared to teach me proper morals and values before I went chasing ambitions the wrong way. My friends weren’t as fortunate to find that support system.
One of the biggest problems I see today is kids surviving and thinking it’s cool to just survive — not seeing the true purpose and meaning in their lives.
Some of these kids are overlooked their whole lives — in school, at home, in the foster care system. Most of them just need someone to teach them what’s right and wrong yet most people just give up on foster youth, not understanding that being shut down by other people cuts off access for them to learn things. That’s why I always say, Get to know someone before you judge them based on a circumstance in their past.
There is so much untapped potential among the youth who’ve been brought up in chaos and trauma.
They just need someone to see them, teach them, get to know them.