Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One State Foster Kid's Story

The following article was published in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel. It gives a glimpse into the thoughts of a foster child.

One state foster kid's story
By Greta Anderson
July 24, 2010

When I was taken from my home and given 10 minutes to pack my belongings, no one told me where I would be going or what the long-term plan was for me. I entered foster care with very little information and even less influence on the decisions being made. At that point in my life, I couldn't understand why people said things like "everything happens for a reason."

At 15, I felt helpless and hopeless and could find little justification for my life taking this drastic detour. Fast-forward six years and nine placements later. At 22 years old, I am beginning to grasp the bigger picture. My story is not unique in Wisconsin or around the country; there are more than 7,000 youths in foster care in Wisconsin and over a half-million around the nation - and many of them are teens.

My time spent in foster care is something I no longer am ashamed of or something that I think makes me "special." Instead, it is something that gives me perspective on a population that often goes unseen. Older youths in foster care experience unique challenges in transitioning, and people in every occupation and life situation can contribute to improving our chances for success.

Internships with FosterClub and the National Resource Center for Youth Development have blessed me with the opportunity to listen to the stories of hundreds of youths who now stand in the shoes I once filled. For most older youths in the system, there are common concerns.

One of the biggest things we wonder is: Who will stick around when they stop getting paid to do so? I had so many people in my life providing "services" vs. providing real, long-term support. It's hard to create reciprocal relationships when you have learned that there is a time and a place for sharing - during appointments. And what happens when those appointments stop? Once youths "age out" of the system, what do they do with all of the emotions they once had an outlet for?

At 18, I still had a lot left to learn, but the number of people willing to teach me drastically decreased. Often those feelings of frustration and lack of support manifest into behavior that does not benefit us.

If you are someone with a listening ear and an open door, we need you. If you're not very emotional but are good with budgeting and planning, we need you.

I am only where I am today because people who weren't obligated to stepped up to the plate. Without these people, I could've ended up in a much different situation.

My intention in writing this is to say that it is possible to create a community structure that lifts youths up. If there is going to be system reform, it has to be grass roots, because love is not something you can legislate or mandate - nor should you have to.

We can help ensure that youths know there is life after foster care, and it can be a better life than they ever dreamed of. The idea that "it takes a village to raise a child" is still relevant.

My challenge to you is: What can you contribute to your village? What opportunities do you have to support not just foster care youths but at-risk youths in general? You don't have to be perfect to be involved.

Greta Anderson entered the Wisconsin foster care system at age 15, placed in care as a result of a messy family court situation. During her two years in care, Greta experienced nine placements as well as grappled with being separated from her younger sister. She is a senior majoring in art education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She plans to pursue her doctoral degree. Greta served as a 2009 FosterClub All-Star and is enjoying her summer in Tulsa, Okla., as a National Resource Center for Youth Development intern.

1 comment:

Campbell said...

"Everything happens for a reason." I hate that phrase more than anything because It's never made sense in my life. I entered foster care at six months old and aged out of foster care to nothing. I still haven't found the reason for my childhood or lack of family. You are an inspiration but most people in foster care do not have the type of people you had step up to the plate and help us. Thanks for speaking up! It means a lot to me.