When I was eight years old, my sisters and I were removed from our home and placed in foster care in the Utah state system. Our home environment was unsafe and unstable. The idea was that we would spend temporary time in care until my mother could be named suitable. There were three of us. My time in care was a brief one, but I remember fully the impact it had on my life.
The three of us girls were separated when removed from my mother's house, two of us placed in foster care, the third in a children's center alone because my foster mother could not care for all three of us. I was very fortunate to be placed in a loving young family while my mother jumped through the hoops to regain her parental rights. I was able to experience normality, a real normal for the first time in my life. I had clean clothes, new toys, and after-school snacks. I remember being helped with school work and playing in the backyard pool. During the separation, my mother became pregnant with her fourth child. In turn, she was back on track for a bit. She got a job, began dating a good man, and rented a house on a quiet suburban street. We bought a dog; his name was Morgan. He was very cute.
Things were great during the honeymoon period, as we call it. We all got along; we went to daycare and spent time in the kitchen together. After being reunited, I don't remember ever seeing a caseworker or social worker, and all of the counseling that we had went through ended as soon as we exited care. The happy, healthy suburban life didn't last long.
Eventually, we were back to only eating at school, nothing in the refrigerator. My mother was back to using drugs and we'd moved to three schools in one year. I remember many nights waiting for my mom to come home, many times wondering if she would come home and pack us up so we could move again. Her cycle of drug use and rotten boyfriends had come back full swing, and it seemed the only thing that changed for us was that now there were four of us girls.
The PTA mom had again become a party girl.
I know that the same resources that could have kept us out of foster care in the first place could have saved us after being reunified. My mother needed addiction treatment, parental classes, and job-skills training. We all needed family counseling. My story could have ended with a new dog on a quiet suburban street; it didn't have to end the same way it began. My story is just one of thousands like it: children removed from unsafe homes, separated from each other and placed in care, handed back with hopes of impossible promises of how it will be different this time. My mother is not a bad woman. She's just another young mother that needs support, wants change, and doesn't have the resources to do it.
Jennifer Gibson, entered the Utah state foster care system when she was 8 years old, after having been removed from her family as a result of abuse and neglect. As she was growing up, Ms. Gibson found refuge through her acting. With the support of her grandmother, Ms. Gibson has starred in several community theatre productions and participated twice in the Miss Oregon Scholarship Pageant. Through sharing her story, she has been an advocate for abused and neglected children.