One child's horror within the foster care system. System means, those responsible for administering foster care; not foster parents.
I'd like to share a story with you. It's about a little boy, but it could as easily be about a little girl. Picture the following in your mind.
A baby boy has just been born. He should be wrapped in his loving mother's arms with her scent all about him and with family gathering full of joy at his birth. But he doesn't feel those loving arms nor hear the sounds of joy. The smells are those of a hospital ward.
He is placed for adoption at birth, but no one comes to claim him as their own. He is NOBODY'S CHILD!
Moving from one nursery to another, the days, weeks and months pass and the calendar moves toward his first birthday.
He becomes a ward of the state...a "foster" child, and yet, remains alone
He hears someone...a stranger...calling his name. Someone is picking him up and saying "they are taking him with them."
Years pass. He has heard strangers repeat his name and say "Pack your bag...you are leaving!" ten different times...he is only six years old. Each time he has heard it, he has just begun to make friends...now they are gone. He begins to feel comfortable where he is...now it's time to move again.
Each move has brought him to unfamiliar surroundings and people. Each time he has had to pack his "paper bag" with all his worldly possessions
No one has yet called him Son...he is only called by his first name. He hears he is a foster child for the first time. He hears the word "bastard" in relation to him as well. He is also called names that cannot be repeated here.
No one loves him. He doesn't belong wherever he has gone. He is treated differently than others. No one wants him. He has no permanent home. He walks home from school to his temporary home slowly, having developed a fear that it may no longer be his home when he gets there.
He suddenly finds himself in a home where things are different. He is treated with love. He is treated as part of the family. He starts to lose his fear of leaving school to go home. He is getting comfortable where he is at. He is in this home one year, two years, three years. He believes he has finally found a home. He has made and kept friends for longer than a few months. He passes a fourth year; he is half way through another year.
He arrives home from school one day and sees a stranger in the house. He slows down going up the walkway and begins to tremble. He sees the one he loves and calls MOM crying. He now knows that stranger in the room is a case worker from Catholic Charities. He goes to his Mom to hold her...to cry with her. He knows what this means. He packs his "paper bag" once again. Carrying it, he slowly is walking out of the house he has known for four and one half years as home. He looks back as he is slowly driven away...he knows in his heart he won't be back to live here again.
He has been placed in a juvenile detention center with young men who have committed every imaginable crime. His only crime is he has no parents or home to call his own. He is the youngest boy on the block, as well as the smallest. He is forced to learn how to fight quickly, or be forced to perform sexual favors for the other boys entertainment. His bed is a thin mattress on the floor, as the block is overcrowded. He lives here for over two months while yet another temporary home is found for him.
He is in a strange place once again. He is in a new school. He has no friends. He is treated as a stranger at this place. He is not a part of this family. He is forced to eat alone. He is given but one meal a day which forces him to steal from classmates lunches to lessen his hunger pangs.
He does not sleep in the house, but on the unheated back porch. He is only allowed in the main portion of the house to use the bathroom.
Christmas comes...the only gifts he receives are the clothes that were given him by the St. Vincent de Paul Society a week earlier, as his semiannual clothing allotment. There is nothing from this family for him under the tree.
Months pass. He is told to "pack his bag." They are coming for him in the morning. He is being moved yet again...and he doesn't know where he is going.
He is asleep this last night, when suddenly he is jolted awake. Before him stands another person...exposing himself. He intends to have the boy remember his last night in this house. He screams out in terror. He lashes every way possible. He hears someone coming, asking, “What is going on?” He tells his story, but is not believed. He is told, "You no good, ungrateful, lying little bastard! No wonder no one wants you! Get your bag and get your ass out of this house!" He hears and feels the hard slap and sting of a hand across his reddened face. He is forced to sit on the outside stoop in the cold night, to await them coming to get him in the morning.
He is picked up. He is on a plane for the first time in his life and doesn't know where he is being taken. The person taking him is not speaking to him. He lands in a place he has never heard of and has no idea where he is...only that he has been moved again.
You have been reading this for just a few minutes. In those few minutes this young boy has been moved fourteen times. He has been moved from the only place he considered home and the people he loved. He has made friends and lost them. He has changed schools. He has been made to feel a part of a family and as a stranger. He has been sexually assaulted. He is alone again.
These few minutes you have been reading this has actually been the course of the first eleven years of this young boy's life.
Can you imagine how this young boy felt! Dig deep within yourself and touch it, taste it, smell it. Experience what he was feeling for eleven years while stuck in the quagmire of the foster care system!
Feel it...Feel it...Feel it!
Have you truly experienced how he felt? Could you breathe it? Taste it? Smell it? HOW DID IT MAKE YOU FEEL?
You have just experienced a few minutes imagining situations...imagining how you might have felt as a young boy in those situations.
My friends, I don't need to imagine any of the story I have shared with you or the feelings this young boy felt. It is a story not just about any little boy or girl. It is a TRUE story...and I AM that young boy. I am the one who lived it! I felt it! I do not need to imagine it, for it WAS the first eleven years of my life! I experienced every feeling you thought of while reading this, and then some!
How did I feel? I felt pain, like a nobody, unwanted, depressed, suicidal, in constant fear of what each new day might bring, worthless, a failure, second class, very alone...to name just a few.
During the years on the merry-go-round of the foster care system I could but ask questions. What was wrong with me? Why didn't anyone want me? Will I never have a family?
These were just a few of the feelings and questions that would haunt me throughout my childhood and beyond. I did not realize that the problem was not me but the "system" itself.
Some of the pain and hurt remains today, years after I left the system...the wounds may have healed on the surface but the inward scars will last a lifetime.
The system was responsible for providing my most basic needs as a child. By basics I don't mean simply shelter and food. To me the basics are a stable home life, knowledge that someone actually gave a damn about me, self-worth and most importantly, the ability to trust those responsible for me! They did not even come close to achieving them.
As a child, all I ever truly wanted was a place to call home, a family to love me, someone to call me SON! I don't think I desired too much...one family I could love and call my own...not eleven temporary residences! Because of the system, those simple desires, will NEVER become a reality!
That is the damage the foster care system caused that I have had to overcome. The damage only began to be reversed when "the system" made the decision to give up on me. Yes, they actually made a decision that I was the failure and sent me off for someone else to deal with. Actually, it was their failure and their sending me away, which began my redemption...the beginning of the repair that would be necessary if I were not to become what I felt or what "the system" had already determined I was.
Is this the foster care system yesterday...absolutely not! Though I aged out of this system over thirty-six years ago, the horrors of yesteryear remain a reality to many within the system today.
I think today, not of myself, but rather the thousands of children still facing the horrors I faced years ago. Will they be able to make it? Will they end up in prison, or worse...dead?
I have shared my story within one state's foster care system. Sadly, it is not unique or rare. I share it in hopes of awakening others to the horrors thousands of children face today within the system responsible for them.
The Foster Care System of America needs reforming...but that's a story for another day!
When the "system" realized they had failed me, they sent me to Boys Town Nebraska, where I spent seven and one-half years, until I graduated high school. It was the longest period of stability in my young life. It allowed me to get an education, to grow and mature. Since then I have received a college degree and have had a successful business career.
I made it, not because of the system, but rather in spite of it." How many won't be as fortunate as I?
© 2004 Lawrence P. Adams
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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|Reviewed by Bobbie Hess
|I know you didn't write this, Lawrence, for us to read and feel "sorry" for you--it needed to be written for other reasons. We are all part of the society--it's not a pretty one--and we make the system much more complicated than it need be. A "people system"--people, not caring, understanding, or loving, just people. Thanks for sharing--maybe others will open up to share as well. It's a beginning, for we do need to hear and read. b|
|Reviewed by Ed Matlack
|It is as if a knife has been thrust inside of me and twisted and dragged across and through my inner workings...this is a painful write, one that I am glad I did not go thru, although there maybe some of me saying I may have inflicted some of this type of harm as a past incarnation of myself, when I was younger and had no sense nor worry about others feelings, when I went with my desires, not with my compassion and intelligence...what a hurtful life you did have, Lawrence, I am sorry that you had to go thru all that, and am glad you came thru it...but what of the rest? What can be done? Like fighting city hall, but I am sure anyone who reads this will try, albeit to a small degree...Peace thru Knowledge, Ed & Rufuz (w00f)|
|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|This story is cool, strong write. Needed to be done. It is a wake up call because the Social Services system in the States is a flawed one. Especially when they take the child from the parents -- without even giving them a chance to be parents. It caused me to fall apart at the seams; which is the reason I am writing even harder so my son can find me.|
|Reviewed by G Donais
This is a wonderful story of survival but it is so sad that the systems that are in place to help and protect our children are in fact doing the opposite. Yes our Foster care, Social Service policies need heavy reviewing and changes. We can all sit back and wish for a change, but it will take story's like this to help wake up the policy makers.
|Reviewed by Michelle Kidwell Power In The Pen