Think about it: You are taken from your parents, dropped off at someone else’s home, usually with a garbage bag filled with your clothes, told that this is your new home, and these are your new parents and often, this is your new school. Don’t be sad, don’t be traumatized, don’t act-out. Oh, and sometimes this happens, three, four, five, six plus, times during your foster care journey.
And to add insult to injury, you are characterized as a delinquent or a troubled youth as though the troubles – and the reasons for the troubles – existed in a bubble that you created.
Until we rewrite that narrative, until we meet kids where they are when they come into a new situation, our impact won’t change. And what is the role of foster parents in this equation? In my mind, the good ones are in it for the right reasons. They have love and patience and want to be the guide, the mentor, the nurturer, the positive influence in the lives of youth. They want a young person to know that someone truly cares about them.
“My papa, he’s my foster dad,” said Royce Markley, a former foster youth. “He looked at us and said, ‘I don’t want you guys to be our foster kids, I don’t want to be your foster parents. You guys can just be our boys and move in with us.’”
It would be nice to report that this conversation happened as soon as Royce and his brother re-entered the foster care system at 14, but instead it happened four years – and four different placements – later. At 18, as Royce was getting ready to graduate from high school, he was told that he was no longer welcome to stay in the home where he had lived since 16.
It was luck that friends introduced him to the couple who he now calls Papa and Nana.
Royce describes foster care as a “weird niche in our society,” and it was his words I echoed in the opening paragraph. In order to make sense of his experience himself and to have others learn from it, he has been writing about his journey in his Foster Fight blog for the last three years.
I recently got an invitation to Royce’s graduation from the University of Oregon on June 18. He will be one of the 5 percent of foster youth who graduate from a four-year college. Yes, there were a lot of people in his court: Mentors, sure, people who believed in him, definitely, intrinsically motivated, absolutely – but it was this desire to not be defined by his circumstances that kept pushing him forward. And a little love from Papa and Nana didn’t hurt.
Mira Zimet is an award-winning educational and documentary filmmaker. She launched The Storyboard Project in 2014 to give foster youth transitioning into adulthood the opportunity to tell their story using a visual medium. Follow her on twitter @SPBYourStory or Facebook at /thestoryboardprojectla.