I never knew a single kid who ever wanted to be in foster care. No kid is proud to be born into a broken home. Then you add foster care on top of trauma, which creates a litany of other problems such as: exposure of family secrets, a separation of siblings, lack of certainty or stability, disruptive family interruptions, spotty educational records, and a village of workers who don’t communicate with each other.
However, looking back, there were times when people made a significant difference in a positive way. These acts of kindness didn’t take a lot of time either. Big or small, those moments became memories that helped me cope in the midst of the worst years of my life.
1. Asked for My Side of the Story.
I was 14 years old when I was crying my eyes out at some Dust Bowl courthouse. My absentee social worker had just threatened to separate me from my younger sister for a “failure of placement.”
We weren’t kicked out, but we asked to be removed from an unstable foster home at the time our biological father came back into our lives. I had a great school record and was on a sports team. All to say, I was virtually ignored by the passive court reporters and lawyers until I had a probation officer ask me what was wrong. I told her about how I was powerless against my social worker’s decision to separate my sister and me, and she suggested I write a thorough letter to the judge, explaining my side of things.
I took her advice,* the judge launched an investigation that concluded a separation was not warranted. Because someone asked for my side of the story being weaved in the courtroom, I felt empowered to explain myself. This act kept my sister and I together.
2. Took A Genuine Interest.
I was 15-years-old, slouching in sweats at a receiving home classroom, hating the world when Mr. Severson, the head teacher, asked me about my interests.
“Sleeping. Dying. That’s about it!”
Mr. Severson didn’t let up, and eventually plied a real response out of me, which was writing. He immediately assigned me to write for the school newspaper, “The Polinsky Scoop,” and gave me books on writing. It was this genuine interest that helped not only distract me from my problems at the time, but assisted in channeling all my justifiable anger and upset into a more productive outlet.
3. Not Fazed By My Fight.
I was 16-years-old when I got into my first (and last) fight in foster care. For years, I had been able to avoid taking the bait by some of my provocative peers, but one day, my sister was picked on and I defended her. I was also convinced that all my honor rolls in school and in group homes didn’t matter, as I was relegated to spending the rest of my childhood in institutions.
Later that day, I received a visit from an Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP) worker. He was visiting everyone, recruiting, and I wasn’t hearing it. I was consumed with how I now had a “record” and devastated that I was a cliché, a typical foster care stereotype who had zero chances of a normal home life.
After sharing why I was distracted, this worker told me not to allow myself to be defined by one mistake. If anything, take the opportunity he was presenting to show I’m not the girl with the new label. “Rewrite, edit your life, right now!” he said.
Needless to say, I did and he helped redirect the course my life was taking. If it weren’t for him, and others like him, I would’ve been angrier, more self-destructive and far less open to receiving love when it finally arrived in my life, years later.
*Click on photo to see the first page of the original letter. The rest of this letter is in Georgette’s memoir.
Georgette Todd is the author of “Foster Girl, A Memoir“, and a member of our blogger co-op.