Growing up in New York as a Haitian American in the foster care system wasn’t a great experience. I faced various obstacles, like moving in and out of different foster and group homes, and being placed in the juvenile justice system. As a dark-skinned girl in the United States, it is a challenging position to be in. It was always hard finding good placement, and I felt like the color of my skin played a role in that.
Looking back at all the discrimination I faced growing up in the system reminds me of how it correlates to slavery by taking Black children away from their families, putting them up for sale, and the parents never seeing their kids again. At the same time, the child will go through multiple homes as a restrained person, a slave to the system. I had to clean and cook for the owner or foster parent. The darker your complexion, the harsher the condition you’d face, like finding a placement.
I never saw a white child in care, group homes, or juvenile halls. The system in New York would prefer to leave a white child at home to be abused or hurt by their biological parents before they took them away from them. Now, at 25 years old, I realize it’s rooted in the oppression of our Black and Latinx youth. While in the group homes or detention centers, I noticed that most kids looked like me. They were either Black or Latinx. Even though the situation with my parents was challenging, I saw many children like me interacting with their biological families while many of their parents were fighting to get their kids back.
One of the most significant changes I feel needs to happen in helping the youth is closing down some foster homes. Some of these foster parents don’t deserve to be licensed. We should have a system where it’s easy for the youth to look for foster parents and have a say in which home they go into. There should be a mechanism that works with people in the community, who have a clean background check and want to work with children who go into the system, to help kids find a placement and ensure the child’s well-being is safe. They should also replace detention centers with therapy centers where a child can go if they have a fight or get into any trouble. These therapy centers should have a licensed therapist that helps the youth figure out what’s going on inside that’s causing them to lash out and misbehave. These centers can become a place where the child feels comfortable enough to express themselves.
Another significant change that they need to make to stop the foster care-to-prison pipeline is closing juvenile detention centers. They serve no actual purpose. When I was put in there just for getting into a fight with a former friend, it didn’t feel warm-hearted, and I thought I was being tortured. They put you in a tiny cell, telling you when you can eat, sleep, and shower. We don’t need facilities like that for children under 18.
Group homes should also switch to homeschools. Group homes can be a smaller place for children to get an education without the pressure of the public school system. Also, all of the policies should be the same so that foster care agencies have the same goals and actions for the children’s agency regardless of the location. Their main goal should always be a better future for the children, whether getting them back home to their family or finding a new caring family.
I have faith in the system and believe it will change for the better one day. Parents will get to be with their children. Kids won’t have to go through the trauma of being placed in a foster care system and then thrown in prison mentally and physically for a minor crime they probably committed for attention. I believe that, eventually, we’ll come together as former and current foster youth to make our impression on the world and let it be known that we will fight for Black and brown children and won’t let the system traumatize and treat us like slaves any longer.