Poor Outcomes – A Sad Fact

Continuing building awareness regarding Foster Care as May is Awareness month.

Trigger warning

The following story mentions murder, substance use/addiction/overdose, suicide, homelessness, Child Protective Services cases that are open, trauma, illegal activity/selling drugs, sex work, mention of a higher power and spiritual crisis, the effects of poverty, and mention police.

Having been warned, here is today’s awareness builder.

It’s Foster Care Awareness month and I’m sitting here at 3:30 am, not able to sleep.

My friend, a girl I’ve known since 6th grade, was murdered in 2019. She was in group homes with me as well, two different placements. She dated my sister. I grew up with this girl. Today, the news covered the sentencing. I learned new details of what happened. It was disgusting, made me hate the world we live in, and made me so hopeless but furious. I’ll spare the details but it was inhumane, needless, and these two men are pathetic excuses for human beings. My friend was 22 when she passed, and she left behind a young daughter.

She did extra jobs for her employer and turned him into the department of labor after he refused to compensate her. That was his motive. It describes his crack-cocaine purchase right after the event. It was all about money. Money for drugs. But my friend was so desperate and had to work at this place and got caught up in this cycle trying to once again, rely on systems and was killed. I know the world is crazy and this could’ve happened to anyone but this specific case with the details.. I think not. I think this was a direct effect of how the systems chews youth up and spits them out. They have to rely and try to network with unsafe, sketchy people because they don’t know how else to make a living. It’s not like the department would help. Or care. Nobody who wants to do anything can and those who can’t won’t do anything.

I’m angry. I’m triggered.

I have three other friends from placement that were murdered. I have two friends that overdosed. I have two that committed suicide. I have one that died outside while homeless.

I’ve experienced so much grief and loss in my life, but I also know that these are the statistics for foster youth. Why do we have to be reduced to these statistics? When does it end? When does the world and our government figure that we’ve had enough?

This breaking code silence movement has done a lot for my mental health, targeted support groups help. Former foster youth are the only ones advocating and looking out for each other. I’m just so distraught tonight.

My friends all were amazing people, kind people. People who have seen the worst side of others but still worked hard to show up to life and make this world a better place for others, every last one of them.

I spent 11 years in the NYS Foster Care system. These youth from placement are all I know, I don’t even know anyone else aside from the internet that I haven’t met in care. I’m watching my friends die, I’m watching life kick them when they’re down, homeless, doing sex work out of necessity and desperation, stealing out of desperation, selling illegal items out of desperation, going to jail and prison, having open CPS cases with their own children when they’re just trying to move on with life and their own personal experiences, working for shady people because THEY HAVE TO. Everyone I was in care with, including myself live in poverty. I know I’ve had to network with shady people and take risks myself, you’re never growing up and are like “oh yeah I’m going to clean this mans house under the table that I don’t know and I could get attacked and all but nobody would care because I have nobody to call anyways and the police only made it worse the last time”

Because the resources aren’t there, the empathy isn’t there. The community isn’t there. Youth can so easily go back to what they know pre-system and actually pick up more behaviors in the system because THE SYSTEM DOESNT WORK. It’s failed so many of us.

Thank you for letting me vent, I’m mourning so much. I’m so scared to lose anyone else and I’m also fearful for my own future. They raised us to be stupid, to be nothing, to be institutionalized. They already reduced us to these statistics.

I feel so spiritually bankrupt at this point, I feel like I’ve been abandoned by my higher power, and I’m always stuck thinking about how the world should be rather than how it is. It’s so much weight to carry, but I can’t be complacent about the trials we face as youth. I feel powerless and here it is, foster care awareness month and I feel like this is the only platform I can come to and express my sorrows without being silenced. Thank you for reading. I just needed to get it out to people who /do/ care.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

For several months now our entire country and most of the world has been living with toxic stress.  It’s the kind of stress that puts you on edge and keeps you there, day after day after day.  If you have felt stressed, imagine what it would be like to experience adversity and/or abuse — not having enough to eat or being exposed to violence – then think, what if the one experiencing this is still a child.

Factors such as divorce, domestic violence or having an incarcerated parent are called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Four or more ACEs can result in chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. In the long term, living with ACEs or other negative factors, such as poverty, can literally change your brain chemistry.

What does it look like for a young person to live with several ACEs and no supports ?  What does a foster parent experience when bringing a middle school or teenage foster youth into their home ?

It might be not being able to sleep without a light on. Or it could be eating even when one is full or not hungry. Some children become “runners” — they leave school whenever they become upset.

And the symptoms can become even worse.  The child may become a cutter; may be suicidal. Such children can have trouble forming appropriate friendships. Maybe they trash their room; in one fight-or-flight moment, climb out of their window and tumble to the ground. Even jump out of a moving car.

A foster parent could find themselves restraining the child physically by wrapping their arms around the child’s shoulders or waist, using all their strength to keep the child from leaving or hurting their self. Maybe you raised your hand only to motion toward something and the child flinched or even ducked.

And your heart breaks for this young person.  You had hoped they knew you would never hit them.  You are a foster parent.  You signed up for this because you thought you had something to give — time and care and love — to kids who desperately need that.

You might become the person the county calls when a child is removed from a home and has nowhere else to go, or when a foster family needs a break. This is known as emergency respite.

Most foster kids want to be happy.  After a lifetime of abuse and neglect, they may not know how.  A foster parent is also there to be a support for reunification with the biological family.

The best foster parents build a fortress of protective factors around their foster children. Protective factors are those things that most of us take for granted — a friend to call when we need advice; someone to help whenever we aren’t enough on our own.

Some of us are born privileged to have built-in protective factors (a supportive family, enough money).  Most foster kids will need to collect them from somewhere else (perhaps a chosen family made up of friends). At school, they require trauma-informed teachers and staff who understand how ACEs can be reflected in behavior.

National data shows that more than 20 percent of children up to age 17 have experienced two or more ACEs.  Beyond abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) and general neglect these include the loss of a parent to death, divorce and abandonment.  A family member addicted to drugs or alcohol.  A family member that is incarcerated. Being exposed to domestic violence and mental health issues among the family’s members.

Brain toxicity exists. A child can have post-traumatic stress disorder. ACEs are not limited to low-income neighborhoods, domestic violence and substance abuse take place in higher income homes and are every bit as toxic. Learn to look at all people through a trauma-informed lens. Ask, if you suspect this, “What happened to you?” and then listen without adding your own opinions.

Every domestic-violence shelter worker or child-care provider, anyone who works for child-protective services, anyone associated with family court, law enforcement personnel and physicians – ALL need to be trained appropriately to deal with trauma related behavior

Trauma is not the fault of any child.  Understanding ACE impacts allows adults to see the reason behind the behaviors.  Baby steps in a positive direction are progress.