Youth Voices, Speaking Out about Foster Care

By A Foster Care Alum

I have always wondered how much different life would have been in the Big Apple if I hadn’t grown up in foster care.

Unlike the uncertainty of city life, foster care came with Two Truths: 1) New York City contracted random families to care for orphans like my three siblings, and myself and 2) this contract was binding until the age of 18, adoption, or aging out.

My recent work with the Youth Writes program, which spent two months delivering a strengths-based writing program for young women impacted by the NYC foster care system was as memorable as it was stunning – providing a unique insight into the voices of those still in care while unearthing questions I had never asked and ones that had never been answered.

Primarily, how was it that, as a child who came of age in foster care, I had never learned how to age out of it?

My foster care journey lay in the bizarre equation that when posed with increasingly worrisome situations, one tended to stay in rather than out. Without a true grasp of the power of money, we’d made a contract of our own: we decided that the best way was to stay together, no matter what.

As the eldest, I’d let myself get gussied-up once a year to stand before a family court judge and state, under oath, that neither my siblings nor I -- as miserable as our accommodations were -- wished to be adopted by our current, and last foster parent. The courtroom did not allow foster or biological family members to be present during these proceedings, yet even the lack of anxious eyes was not enough to prompt a judge to ask “Why,” or for that matter, “Why not.”

Oh, how I wish they’d turned my mic up.

I would have told them about dodging loan sharks, showing up to school tired and disheveled, of sleeping head--to-foot in shared rooms with incestuous “relatives”, but, no one asked.

By then, we had already come to understand that adoption meant the end of the contract, and with it, a future that seemed dubious at best.

I ponder the worth of that feckless piece of paper we fought so hard for that did so little to improve our lives. Looking back, I see little more than an impotent instrument of urban ineffectiveness, but as a child, it served as a foggy, soggy cloud of hope that hovered over our dysfunctional household, a monthly reminder of our grim reality.