I was never formally taught in school that the environments someone grows up in, combined with genetics, gives a person a predisposition to things like addiction, mental illness, and experiencing domestic violence. Although I wasn’t formally taught that, I knew I didn’t want to have the same issues as the caregivers in my life. I knew that I didn’t want to continue this cycle of trauma and abuse.
Being a child of an addict, living in a home with domestic violence, being poor, having an absent father, and more, I always knew my life wasn’t “normal.” As I entered foster care at the age of 15, I began to see a new level of how people negatively viewed youth with generational trauma. The stigma placed on me when telling someone I am a former Foster often goes one of two ways. One: they tell me how resilient I am without acknowledging that resiliency wasn’t a choice. Two: they place me into a tiny box they’ve created in their heads, which always accompanies negative connotations.
These stigmas that came with being a Foster were attached to me throughout high school. Having police officers, parents, teachers, and other prominent adult figures in my life tell me that I would not be successful made me feel like I didn’t have agency over my future — something that I often felt in my childhood. Instead of these adults being support systems, they often stigmatized me as a “bad kid.” Because of this, I was often not given the leeway that many other kids had. If I messed up, it was because that’s who I was meant to be. To them, my genetics and experiences had already “set my future in stone.”
Growing up, school was my solace. Writing papers, taking tests, and learning about the world is what I loved because I was good at it. It was the one thing in my life that I felt I had control over. As soon as I learned more about college in middle school, I began to envision myself there because it would be away from my home life — away from the violence, chaos, and drug use. I clung to that hope for my future more than I’d ever clung to anything before.
As much as I loved school and often excelled, I saw how unprepared my teachers and counselors were in supporting a kid like me, both before I entered foster care and after. Even when there were obvious signs of poverty, addiction, and abuse, no one seemed to step in and offer resources to me or my family.
As I began college, I realized that I was struggling to connect with my peers on campus. I soon realized how behind I was on financial literacy and basic knowledge that many of my peers’ parents and families had already taught them. Increasing anxiety about obtaining funds for college and life after high school seemed to creep up on me. Many of my classmates had a place to go home to if they failed out of college, or a parent they could ask to co-sign loans or ask for money if their loans didn’t go through. But I felt that this safety net was non-existent for me. This made me feel like I was, yet again, lacking something that I didn’t have control over.
Having a community that I could relate to was a huge factor in feeling that I belonged, especially on a college campus where I was a part of a group of people in which only less than 10% of us graduate college. Not seeing Fosters outwardly represented and not being close with any Fosters made me feel like I didn’t belong in college, almost like it was a fluke that I was even there. Spoiler: I did end up graduating, and with high honors. If I had listened to how people viewed me, and people like me, I would not have been able to accomplish this.
As a whole, Fosters are given fewer resources, but are simultaneously under intense pressure to not have the lack of resources and disproportionate rates of trauma affect our lives. It seems that one failure is used as an affirmation of the expectation of us failing. When we do succeed, we’re applauded for our resilience instead of giving acknowledgment of the root of our needed resiliency. This root can come in many forms, but is too often inequitable systems at play. The foster care system, the [in]justice system, the education system, and so much more, all jumpstart the trauma we are forced to go through.
What I’ve realized throughout my experience in and out of the foster care system is that people, especially people in power, will do anything but fix the systems that need us to be resilient in the first place. Conditional care is often what foster youth feel. Whether it is with teachers, counselors, foster parents, biological parents, and even social workers, Fosters often feel that the love and care they receive will only happen if they’re seemingly perfect, and, even then, the quality of care we receive is often lower than those out of care.
Fosters deserve to be unconditionally loved and cared for like many non-fosters are. We deserve to make mistakes and be loved regardless. We deserve to not have to be resilient, but rather have people who wholeheartedly support, guide, and protect us. We deserve school to exist as a place for learning and development, not a lifeline to get out of dangerous and traumatizing circumstances. I hope that the policies that come after me create a system where youth are centered, listened to, and cared for. Most importantly, I envision a world where youth don’t have to endure trauma in the first place, and where we are loved, supported, and truly cared for by families and our larger community. I hope for a world where the foster care system isn’t needed.
Other news outlets don’t cover child welfare and juvenile justice like we do.
News for people, not for profit.