Often, foster youth are invisible to the average person living day by day, whether they are hiding their foster status or living in their truth. We can’t expect individuals who have a duty to themselves to miraculously pick up on our circumstances. We, as youths, have to speak up, which, thus, sets the stage for our people. I believe the best solution starts with building connections and genuinely opening up about our hardships. For example, if everyone believed your “perfect” family story before you head into a juvenile system, they are more likely to believe that you don’t need their support.
In contrast, I was always a youth who mentioned my story, largely due to the support from my agency that my mother couldn’t provide. However, the lack of love and affection from foster parents was too much of a burden to carry. Eventually, I felt trust was something I wouldn’t feel until I established my own family one day. Now, as a believer of this concept, it left me with uncontrollable anger, which my guardians ignored right after receiving an increase on their financial support (extra money provided by the government for mentally ill youths).
If policies were different in New York, youth wouldn’t be pipelined through the justice system, or at least it would decrease their chances. They’re a number of regulations, including rules on appearance, that contribute to youth detainment. A policy that a bunch of foster children are familiar with is the “10-Day Notice.” This policy ensures that the child must be placed in another home before or by the next 10 days from the served notice. This policy can and, at times, is done without the youth’s knowledge. Imagine telling yourself that today is the day to make a positive change in your life as you’re coming back from school. Then, you see all of your belongings in black trash bags and that you have to find a new home. This is exactly the way this trauma usually takes place. Foster youth still have no say in this policy and its implementation. Through policies like this, group homes and foster homes can drastically raise the likelihood of the foster youth entering the criminal system.
Group homes can also enhance the juvenile incarceration rate further due to the lack of space/creativity, toxic interactions, and jail-building regulated themes. The youth tend to become easily uncomfortable in these spaces, which can lead them to run to the streets. Another policy that makes it worse is known as “A-Wall.” This policy sends the authorities to seek out the adolescent, instead of the guardian looking for the foster child. Often, this act infuriates the youth and possibly leads to an altercation with police that puts, yet, another youth in the slammer. Believe it or not, this law still applies if the youth is sleeping safely at a friend or family member’s home, further extracting any sense of normalcy for the youth. Eventually, many youth can fall victim to drugs, teen pregnancy, or jail. The absence of a functioning and nurturing environment instills low self-esteem in children/teens. I propose that it should be against the law for group homes to resemble jail inside or out. For me, this means removing any bars, adding bright colors — proven to help with depressed moods— and including game rooms any youth would want to come home to. Ultimately, the lack of visual or physical affection in group homes can lead to more trauma and resentment of more systems and can deepen the wounds that need healing between a parent and child.
In foster care, the first person most youth interact with after being removed from family is a therapist. Youth are exploited for something called “special/higher rate” because of their traumas, and are given diagnosis and psychiatric medicine from therapists, which turns into another check for the pharmaceutical industry and juvenile system. Inevitably, this ties the pharmaceutical institutions to the juvenile justice system, as foster youth usually don’t experience one without the other in New York City. Experiencing different therapists and aspects of the juvenile system has created a wall within me that I use to hide all the “Big Secrets.” After all, who really wants people to know you went to the “crazy house” at an age people made fun of you for your shoes?
If foster youth were provided with environments that exhibit peace, care and family, these children/teens would be more focused on bettering themselves that they wouldn’t have time to focus on crime. No matter the age, humans search for love. In order to maintain a good bond, humans must give each other passion or purpose. The current state of group homes shows that it fails to do just that.