Don't Label Us By Giselle J.
For as long as I've been in foster care (which is about four years), I've been faced with comments like, "You're in foster care? You don't look like someone in foster care!" or "Awe, sorry to hear about it," and "What did you do to get put in foster care?" These questions make me so furious! Why? Well, let me break it down for you. When someone says: "You don't look like you're in foster care!" I reply: "What does someone in foster care look like?"
Don't Look the Part
Maybe they picture us as one of the kids advertised on TV by "Save the Children." You know that commercial where someone is begging the public to give up one cup of coffee a day to feed and clothe some unfortunate kid in another country? The misconception that people share is that foster kids can be pointed out by how they look. Like we wear clothes that don't fit, that we look undernourished and dirty. Well, the truth of the matter is that if we don't say that we're in foster care, the public doesn't know it. I had a friend who I'd known for years, who didn't know I was in foster care until we met up in college and it came out through conversation. It's not like I hid it. In fact, I was surprised she didn't know. You see, a lot of people can't tell because I don't look like their stereotype of how a kid in foster care looks! When I hear: "Awe, sorry to hear that." My reply: "I don't need people to be sorry for me. I don't need the pity, because it makes no sense for me to feel sorry for myself. I've got to move on. What I need is to be respected as an individual who is making the best of the life I've got as best as I can."
I Deserve Respect
When I get up every day and go to school so my life can improve, I deserve respect. I deserve respect for being a survivor of abuse and a person who is fighting to overcome the bitter feelings I have. Pity will not do that for me. When I get asked: "What did you do to get put in foster care?" I reply: "Foster kids didn't commit crimes and didn't get sentenced to spend time in foster care. We just happened to be born into a troubled family in a troubled world." The problem is that many people are ignorant about what foster care entails. Stereotyping is the result of this ignorance. People don't realize that the lives of real people are affected by it in big ways. For many kids in foster care, it's a big enough challenge living with people who are not our biological parents and may not treat us as part of the home. Do you really think we like dealing with added pressure due to ignorant people with ignorant questions? I know I don't. That's why I'm taking time out of my busy schedule to tell you what people need to know about foster care. First of all, people need to know the basics, like what foster care is and what it's all about. People need to know that being in foster care is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you're better off being in care than with your family. Foster care should be about placing someone who can no longer live with her biological parents into a safe, structured and supportive environment. Sometimes this happens; sometimes it doesn't.
I want people to know that kids in foster care have the potential to be valuable citizens and members of society, despite what we've been through. For example: Are you aware that some very famous and influential people were in foster care? Take Malcolm X, one of the great Black leaders. After his father was murdered and his mother put in a mental institution, he and his sisters were sent to foster homes. Harry Martinson, whose childhood was spent in a series of foster homes from which he often ran away, went on to win the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature. Edgar Allan Poe, recognized as a famous American author, was also a foster child. Even Marilyn Monroe, the world famous beauty and motion picture actress, was in foster care. In fact, she went through 12 foster homes and one orphanage. Look what these people have done despite where they lived.
We Are Strong
Just like any of life's challenges, foster care builds strong character, resilience and, for many, a determination to make it. We learn to be strong and deal with life's obstacles at an early age. So you see, we are the strong, the brave, the bold. That's who we really are. I consider myself to be resilient because, despite my past, I choose to continue to fight to be somebody. I have also realized that besides God, there are very few people fighting for me. I know that there are people out there who don't believe I can make it, so I'm determined to prove them wrong. I'm determined to prove to the world that kids in foster care have a powerful force driving them to be productive people. So, whenever we're stereotyped as "different" from "normal kids," "dysfunctional" or "bad," it's a blow against our self-esteem. People who engage in such stereotyping are not giving us a fair chance to show that we are people, too. They are also not giving themselves a chance to know us, and by not knowing us, they are missing out on a lot.
"Reprinted with permission from Foster Care Youth United, Copyright 200X by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc. ()."