Saved by the System
By Tara T.
A lot of people do nothing but complain about the foster care system. Even though I sometimes complain too, I also know that foster care has made a big difference in my life. It helped get me back on my feet when I had no family to turn to. Ever since I was 7, I realized I would have a rough life growing up. I was right. I ended up moving from my mother's house to my father's to a friend's, and then to foster care. Each time I moved somewhere new in my family, I hoped things would work out. When they didn't, I felt hurt and disappointed and had to start all over again. Finally, I came to realize that foster care was the only place I would be able to turn to. Sure, it's hard to live in a group home, and it can feel really bad to not be able to live with your family. But I found it was the best thing for me. My mom had four kids. Even though she was on welfare, we never had much to eat. The food she bought would go fast, as if she never went food shopping in the first place. Back then she was the party type. Sometimes if she couldn't afford a babysitter she would leave us in the house without coming home. Once she was gone for two days. She had bought us a box of noodles to last until she came back. My brother wasn't even 1 year old at the time. My older sister would leave me in charge of him so she could go out in the streets with her friends.
My Rough Childhood
My sister would sometimes ask one of her male friends to buy us something to eat when we ran out food. If they didn't do it, we would have to depend on one of our relatives. We always had to wash our clothes by hand, and the jeans were the hardest because we had to squeeze them out by ourselves and then hang them up to dry, and if what we washed out wasn't dry we had to iron it dry in the morning. My mother also used to beat us with hangers, cable cords, shoes and her fists. When I was 5, she gave me a black eye. As we grew up, she didn't change a bit. She actually got worse. When I was 12 she beat me until I had to get stitches, and that's when all of us were separated and put in care. My younger brother was sent to a foster home, and so were my sisters. I turned to my dad. My father hardly was there for me when I was living with my mother, but he did visit like once or twice a month, which was more than could be said for my siblings' fathers. He brought me things here and there while my other siblings' fathers brought them nothing, not even a hug. So I wanted to move in with my father instead of going into care. I thought that with him everything would work out fine.
Moving in With Dad
Things really were fine until my father's girlfriend moved in with him. At first I liked her because she bought me things my father would refuse. But once she and her daughter moved in, the trouble began. She started hitting me and once we got into a fist fight. I stayed away from home as much as possible by hanging out with friends. That didn't go over well with my father and stepmother. They decided to kick me out and put me in a diagnostic center, where people would decide if I should stay in foster care. I felt scared going into the diagnostic center and sad that, once again, living with my family didn't work out. I worried about how the girls in the center would act towards me. Not knowing what to expect scared me even more. But strangely, I found some peace there. It was hard not to have family around me, but there was always food on the table, unlike at my mother's, and the place itself was peaceful and quiet, unlike my father's. I didn't argue with the females the way I argued with my stepmother. No one hit me. Everything felt calm.
The Arguing Returns
After seven months, I left when my father allowed me to move back in. I was kind of happy to move back with my father, because everyone likes the idea of having family to look out for you. I prayed that me and my stepmother would be able to get along this time. But it wasn't long before my stepmother and I started arguing again, and I started thinking that living with them might never work. So I tried living with an older friend of mine. It was painful to leave my father's home to go to someone who wasn't even family, but I felt I had no choice. My older friend had two children of her own. Soon I was babysitting for her two boys while she was at work. She told me that she'd repay the favor by giving me a little money but she never did.
Foster Care to the Rescue
I had stopped going outside and even going to school since I started watching her kids. When I became determined to leave her house and live a little bit of my own life, she got really mad at me. That's when I decided that she was using me, so I said goodbye to her two boys and I left. I didn't know where to go. I didn't have any family members to go to. Then I remembered my peaceful time in the diagnostic center, and I realized that I could turn myself into the system and go back there. I was proud and happy that I thought to do that. Though it upset me not to be able to turn to my family and friends, I was relieved to know that I could turn to foster care for help when all my family and friends let me down. When I turned myself in to foster care, they put me in a nice big house where there were other girls. At first, I worried whether I had done the right thing, and whether I would like it. But over time I became used to the girls and the area. I was very happy to be away from moving from one place to another and away from arguing and fighting with my stepmom. And I knew that I would always have a place to rest my head, that it was no longer up to me to find a home for myself. I even started to go to school again.
I Wanted a New Family
I also had a boyfriend at the time. He was the love of my life. We saw each other every day. To make a long, painful story short, he was killed. He got shot with a gun. And that made me crave being with family all over again. I suddenly wanted a kind of comfort that I thought only family could provide. My father understood that, and we decided that I would give living in his house another try. The same old problems arose in no time-arguing with my stepmother, my feeling like I got blamed for everything that went wrong. I didn't feel they were giving me the love that a family was supposed to. So soon I had a new boyfriend, Hosani, and I spent almost all of my free time with him at his sister's house. Being with him got me away from the fighting at home, and helped me forget some of the pain I felt over losing the love of my life. I decided to leave my father's house for good and move in with Hosani's sister. I didn't have family to count on, so I wanted to form my own home, my own family that I could count on. That didn't happen.
Six Months Pregnant, Nowhere to Go
Two months later, I got pregnant. Hosani started saying we needed money before the baby was born. To get it, he started selling drugs. That made me mad. I thought he would get caught, and I'd be left alone again, only now with a baby and no family to turn to. I was right. One night he called and said he was in jail. They were charging him with theft and robbery. I knew, then, that all my hopes of starting a family were crumbling. He was going to do time in jail. He would not be there for our baby. I was alone and six months pregnant. I knew that times were going to be hard for me again. I knew I couldn't count on my family to help me, so once again, I turned myself into foster care.
Saved By the System
The minute I got to the maternity home I felt a sense of relief, like everything was going to be all right, like me and my baby would be taken care of. It was no longer just me. Immediately the doctors at the maternity home ran tests on me and gave me a sonogram so that I could see my baby in my womb and so they could detect if anything was wrong with the baby's liver or spine. I learned that I was having a girl, which is what I had wanted, and that she was healthy so far. They gave me pills for nutrition and made sure I got a good night's rest. They started giving me clothes for my baby and put me in child birthing classes. They gave me money for sneakers and bought me a coat that was kind of expensive, gave me an allowance that would help me buy my baby clothes and bottles, and put some of it in savings for me. Now no one in my family would have done that-they would have spent the money themselves.
Back on My Feet
I'm not saying that being pregnant and in foster care is something that I had always dreamt of. It wasn't. I wanted to have a family of my own, one that my boyfriend and I could take care of ourselves. But that hadn't happened and so I needed help from the system. I did have problems-at one point I started arguing with some of the girls at the maternity shelter and it almost led to fights. So I had to start spending time away from those girls as much as I could. But over all, everything felt calm again, and I spent a lot of time reading and planning my daughter's future. I also went back to working on my GED. I felt like enough was taken care of that I finally had the space to think. During that time I decided that I wanted to stay in foster care after I had my baby. It was the place that had always proved to be the most stable for me. I decided I wanted to be put in a foster home with my daughter, and that I would go to college for two years to become a nurse and get me a good job so I can provide for my daughter. That's when I found out that foster care will even help me pay for my education. That makes me feel relieved and happy. My family wouldn't be able to pay for me to go to college.
Foster Care Is the Best Option For Me
I haven't cut other people out of my life. I continue to go to Hosani's sisters house for the weekend. I continue to speak to Hosani to let him know that I'm doing fine and that I miss him a lot, but sometimes our baby will kick if I think about him too much. I also visit my parents from time to time. I'm glad that all these people are still in my life-I need them for support, especially since I'm about to become a mother. But I'm also glad that I don't have to depend on them to feed me, clothe me, house me and take care of me. Still, foster care is not a life I want for my daughter. I will do everything I can to make sure that my daughter will not end up alone in foster care because of all the pain and hurting that I feel now because I'm not with my family. It is something that I don't ever want her to feel.
"Reprinted with permission from Foster Care Youth United, Copyright 200X by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc. ()."