Thirty-three days is all it took to revoke the opportunities I was promised for so many years. I was in foster care from the age of 11 until 33 days before my 18th birthday when my caseworker reunified me with my family.
I had always worried I would fall through the cracks but never thought it would be the way it happened. If even one person had explained to me what I would be losing by reunifying so close to my eighteenth birthday, I wouldn’t be struggling like I am today. If I had waited 33 more days, I would have had Medicaid until age 26 and financial support for higher education.
I remember the day I received the call from my state explaining that I did not qualify for the Department of Children and Families/ ETV scholarship which was promised to me, and I was relying on. I spent forty-five minutes explaining how I had been told for seven years that I would get “free college.” What hurt the most was to find out I did not qualify solely because of 33 days and the fact that I did not “age out” of the foster care system.
The seven years I spent in care were filled with heartbreak, letdown, anger, frustration, and confusion. I felt like the least the system could do for me was help me create a better life for myself by getting me on my feet. I felt by providing me with the support of ETV funds, I would be able to go to college and pursue my dreams of giving back to the Child Welfare System, as the kind of social worker I wish I had.
Because of the strong, independent, and passionate person I am, I picked myself up and moved on despite not having financial or familial support.
Because I agreed to exit care 33 days prior to my 18th birthday, I would not be eligible for healthcare unless I qualified by being low income or unemployed. I felt I had to choose between working as a full-time student or not working so my income was low enough to qualify me for health care. It was truly a lose-lose situation.
Had I known that those 33 days would have mattered so much, I would have declined reunification and stayed in foster care. I believe all youth need to know about the benefit of having Medicaid to age 26 through a provision of the Affordable Care Act. Outreach and education about health care and my other options would have informed my decision, and perhaps lead to a different decision.
This shows how broken the system really is. Reunification may be the goal, but that should not mean stripping youth of resources and opportunities that so many of us rely on like health care and funds for school. Those seven years of broken promises are the exact reason I choose to use my voice and give back.
Katherine Gordon, is a junior at The University of Wisconsin Stout majoring in Human Development & Family Studies. She is a 2018 FosterClub All-Star. She spent 7 years in the Wisconsin foster care system.