My name is Jessica Determan, I am 19 years old, and I am from southwest Minnesota. I have been in the child welfare system from ages 14 to 18. I have gone through two traditional foster homes, one kinship placement and at the age of 17, I found my adoptive family. I have two biological brothers, one sister and one brother in my adoptive family. My brother and sister are my adoptive parent's biological children; I changed my last name to theirs during my first year of college. I refer to this family as my adoptive family, and although I wasn't legally adopted, I did legally change my last name to theirs.
Throughout college, I changed my major often between nursing and social work. In high school, I worked in eldercare and cherished caring for others; I thought nursing was my calling in life. One day I was reflecting back to the traumatic experience I faced at a young age; I recalled my victim's advocate that came to the rescue. She allowed that space for me to feel safe for the first time in my life and that is what inspired me to change my major to social work and become a victim's advocate. When I changed my major to social work, many doors opened for me advocating for foster youth which I was not expecting. I was recommended to apply for the 2017 All-Star Internship through FosterClub, which I received and I am currently working with them going through training and advocating for foster youth. I also met with the Minnesota Youth Leadership Council, and I am eager to return to Minnesota and work with them to improve the foster care system. I also have a private blog that a mentor recommended to share my story and offer that support to youth that are struggling in the foster care system or has survived different forms of abuse. Through my experience in foster care, I went through two traditional foster homes, one kinship placement, and my adoptive family. I will be sharing my experience with the two foster homes I went through and how they impacted my life.
The night child protection services removed me from my parent's home, it was very traumatic. After the emergency room visit I endured that night, I met my first foster mom. When my social worker dropped me off, I just stood at the door not knowing what to expect. I knew I could cook and clean so I must be of some use to let this lady let me stay with her. When I was called over, I removed my shoes and used my best manners. I was frightened, it crossed my mind to cling onto my social worker, but I worked so hard not to come off as another troubled foster youth which is a typical stereotype. When my social worker left, Laurie explained to me that I need to take a shower and get ready for bed and she had pajamas for me. Later that night I met her daughter, we pushed our beds together and held hands as I fell asleep which helped immensely with my state of mind. I grew a very close relationship with both of them throughout my short placement of 6-7 months. Throughout this placement I was doing very well, I was getting good grades and staying out of trouble. Throughout my time with the Becker's, I had the opportunity to grow as a child, and for the first time in my life, I felt safe. They provided an environment with rules and structure, and that's what I needed as a youth. The Becker's also never abandoned me; they still consider me family - even years later into my adult life. The Becker's foster home is the type of home I want every child to experience in their journey throughout life. A home that offers unconditional love, respect, opportunity to grow, and a forever family. The Becker's also never introduced me as their foster child, and I've always been thankful for that because it is a common stereotype to think that foster kids are trouble and result in being treated differently.
Another foster placement I went through my freshman and sophomore year of high school was not a healthy living environment. I had a 6-year-old foster brother who was severely autistic. He got the resources he needed, but there were occasions when he would run to my room so scared because our foster dad and their biological son were so intoxicated they would get into physical fights. Their son also sent me inappropriate texts and would try to come into my room at night; thankfully I grew up in foster homes locking my bedroom door at night. While in this placement my foster brother had the structure, and schedule he needed where I didn't. I did whatever I wanted, I snuck out at night, and my foster parents didn't say a word. I got bad grades because they didn't care enough to help me, they let me do whatever I wanted as long as I went to school and I was out of their hair. I didn't get the love, affection, rules, boundaries or structure that every child needs in their life. While in this placement I was at a very low point in my life, some of the things that happened to me while in this placement will always leave a mark on me. I lived my life day by day engaging in unhealthy activities to fill that void of love I needed so desperately by a family. My so called friends at the time should have been in foster care themselves; usually, their parents were either high themselves, or they'd be gone for long periods of time leaving their houses in unlivable conditions. Thinking back to this time that I was in such a low place I remember always thinking that all I wanted was a permanent family that loved and cared for me the way a child deserves.
There's a huge difference in the two foster homes I was in, during my placement with the Becker's I was striving, and I could see a realistic future for myself even at a young age. I received the love and support I needed to thrive as a child. In my biological family's home, I was going through the motions just trying to survive each day. In this home, I found my potential and worth; I was given the tools to succeed. In my freshman and sophomore year foster home I wasn't reaching my full potential. I lacked parental influences which are crucial to a child's success in life. I went through some very traumatic things while in their care because of my lack of parental influences. Being a foster parent can be challenging, but never forgetting what a child needs from a parental figure will get that child far in life. As foster parents, you're leaving a mark on this child's life, and the impact you have on them can make or break them.
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