Growing up, I saw a lot at home that I honestly thought was normal. Before I entered foster care, I lived with my mom, older brother and younger sister. I was the middle child so I always felt like the black sheep. My mother used to abuse me physically, verbally, and emotionally before I even knew what it was. My mom never worked. She abused and sold drugs. Our house was often raided. Every time I settled into a school and made friends, it was time to move.
I started off as a CPS case. But since there was no room in a foster home or group home, the majority of the time, I was in a juvenile detention center, waiting for a home placement. I was treated as a criminal, not as a child that had nowhere to go. The hardest part of being in the system is being ignored. I never felt heard unless I was yelling and causing a scene. There was court date after court date where I had no say-so on my life. I was often told everything will be okay while it’s falling apart. I grew to hate the system. I was treated like a problem when I was the victim. I felt invisible and out of place.
Since entering foster care, my idea of family has shifted to be defined by being bonded together rather than by love or blood relations. In foster care, once you’re 18, the foster home is no longer your “family.” My communication was very limited and monitored in foster homes, even when I was trying to speak to my dad and mom about what was going on. I never got the option to bond with my blood siblings — that time was stolen from me. No matter how much I try now, I can never get that time back. I love my siblings with my whole heart, but just the simplest things feel forced.
I wasn’t able to be a big sister to my little sister and guide her so she can avoid what I went through. During 2012, I ran away from an abusive environment and my foster parent. I was so numb and used to not being heard. I found out months later I was pregnant. I was scared but hopeful. I didn’t know what love was, but I did know what it wasn’t. I vowed to myself and my child that they will be loved unconditionally.
I was taken advantage of by those I trusted to protect me. After having my child, I was forced to sign my rights over to a family member since I was a minor with nowhere to go. They lied and told me it was an open adoption. They told me that they would not take my son out of my life, and I could see him regularly. I have not seen him in eight years. A few of the staff in the juvenile detention center in downtown Minneapolis knew he was taken away from me. Whenever they did not like what I was doing, they loved to throw it in my face that I did not have custody and that I would never see him. Since then, I’ve had two more children. It breaks my heart to know they have a brother they may never meet. I want to tell them, but they will not understand, and I do not want to traumatize them. How can I tell my children that they have an older brother they might never see?
When I entered the system, I was a child who needed love but did not get that from my parents. When I left the system, I was a homeless single mother who wasn’t allowed to see her son. I’ve been in so many juvenile detention centers, impatient treatments, placements, group homes, and youth shelters that I’ve lost count. Constantly being moved around made me anxious as an adult. I’m always thinking about the future instead of just living in the moment. When something good happens for me, my brain and body prepares for it to go wrong. I’m battling my past self, my current self and my future. I lost my cultural background and my identity. I felt like I lost myself. I have PTSD, anxiety, and depression, all from a system that was supposed to protect me.
I often wonder what would have happened if I just stayed home. I could have been in a normal high school and actually had a chance to go to college. I will never know what that life would be like no matter how much I daydream. This is my reality. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of other youths’ realities as well. I’m still scared but hopeful. I will not allow what happened to me to continue to happen. I will use my voice and my story to connect to as many people as possible. Something needs to change, and it needs to happen soon. Children in the system need to be told their rights so that they can hold these institutions accountable. There needs to be more open and transparent communication so that youth in these systems don’t get taken advantage of. Keeping us in the dark is affecting our relationship with the system and with our families. I see life as a domino effect. If we heal the household, the children will thrive. If we divide the household, the family will fail and be lost. We must help families so that we can help the youth.