While watching the movie White Oleander, I couldn’t imagine myself being in foster care. But not too long after, when I was 16, my siblings and I were put into foster care after living with our grandparents most of our lives.
With my mother in jail, and my grandparents falling ill, there was no longer room or energy left for my grandparents to deal with six adolescent teenagers. I was in pure shock but the decision had been made. I wasn’t happy about the way they ended it, but I could not hate them for giving us up.
I didn’t want to go into the system because I knew it would not be good for me at my age. I remembered the girl in White Oleander going from home to home until she finally ends up in a group home. I did not want to end up like that.
When my sisters were asked if they wanted to stay in Compton with their friends, of course they said yes. No teenager wants to leave her friends and a place of familiarity.
I had stayed in contact with a friend of the family who agreed to take me in but she only had enough room for me. I was torn because I did not want to leave my sisters and brother but I had no choice. People kept telling me “Worry about yourself.”
How could I do that knowing my siblings would be staying with complete strangers? Would I ever see them again?
When the social worker came to take us away, it was such a strange feeling. My siblings seemed somewhat unbothered. I had accepted the situation because I had no choice. I think we were all somewhat in denial about what was going on.
Staying with my new guardian was not at all what I thought it would be. My fear of being verbally, mentally and physically abused in foster care still came true even though I was with a “guardian.” I stayed silent because I had already been through enough but I felt out of place and awkward in her home.
About a month later, my whole world came crashing down even more. I received a call that would change me forever.
It was a rainy day when I took the phone call telling me that my sister had been shot and killed. She was just hanging out with some friends, only a few houses away from her foster home. I became hysterical after hanging up the phone. I thought to myself, “How could this have happened?”
My sister’s death made me realize that there needs to be a serious evaluation of and change in the foster care system.
I felt disgust for our environment and the system. My sister had started hanging with the wrong crowd once she went into foster care but she wasn’t a bad kid.
The child welfare system’s failure to help my sister cope with the transition from being a regular kid to a foster kid caused her to go elsewhere for support and comfort.
Once we went in the child welfare system, they were responsible for us. What is the purpose of the foster system if not to care for and protect the children?
I believe my sister’s needs as a foster youth were neglected, and I believe the lack of guidance and supervision resulted in her untimely death.
Usually kids are taken out of homes due to a harmful environment. Due to my grandparent’s illness and absence of our parents, they did not have any choice but to put us in foster care. Despite this, we should have been given more resources, guidance and counseling to help us transition.
Instead, we were simply moved and left to transition on our own. Is it me or is something wrong with that?
It seems that the system places more importance on the convenience of placing a child than ensuring the physical and psychological well-being of that child.
After my sister’s death, I decided that I wanted to make a change in the foster care system. I needed to raise awareness that the system needs to be improved. I am proud to say that after graduating from college I was able to be a part of the Opportunity Youth Collaborative (OYC), a collaborative working to improve outcomes for transition-age youth in Los Angeles.
In OYC, a group of former foster youth come together and talk about how to change systems and policies that affect youth. There are people in important positions making life decisions without the youth being considered or present. OYC seeks to change that.
I know that I cannot change what happened to my sister. She deserved to have someone there who understood and represented her as a foster youth but more importantly as a person. I want to represent and mentor youth who experience the injustices in the foster care system.
I also want to represent those who are overlooked and forgotten. I hope that by being a part of OYC, I can make a change for other youth like myself and my sister.
When I asked my mother if I could publish these photos of Tashell, she said yes, but only if I included a small tribute: In loving memory of Tashell–You will be forever missed and loved.
Yes, she will.