I remember in high school taking those career aptitude tests. I can clearly remember “social worker” being one of my matches and thinking to myself that I had been dealing with social workers my entire life, and there’s NO WAY I wanted to be one. I also remember looking at the salary for various occupations and seeing “social worker” at the very bottom, which only confirmed for me that I would NEVER be a social worker. I graduated high school still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life and enrolled in the local community college. I remember applying for financial aid and my social worker telling me to mark the box, “Ward of the Court.” Marking that box entitled me to attend school for free. But who wants to be a ward of the court? Did that mean I didn’t belong to my foster/adoptive parents? I didn’t like being a “foster child,” and I didn’t like being an 18-year-old “ward of the court” any better.
I changed my mind and degree about three times. I finally settled on just a general degree in education. I also got married shortly after graduation. When I enrolled for my Bachelor of Science degree, I chose to major in psychology simply because I had taken a psychology class and loved it. I planned to go further and earn a master’s degree in special education. So, during my senior year, I worked part time at a local elementary school—and I hated it. I was far into my degree by this point, so I just completed it and earned a B.S. in psychology.
I had my oldest son shortly after graduating, which is what led to my sisters and I being formally adopted. We changed our names to our foster/adoptive parents’ name when we entered permanent foster care. But on my son’s birth certificate, they asked for my name as it appears on my birth certificate, and I did not want to use that name! So, they decided to adopt the three of us at that point, and legally change our names on our birth certificates. When we went before the judge, he said, “This is the first time I’ve ever had three grown adults asking to be adopted.”
I was in foster care until I was almost 21 years old. Both of my sisters were in foster care until their 21st birthday and graduated from the same local private college. From the time we entered foster care (the second time) to the day we left foster care, we had the same social worker. I loved her and trusted her completely. I give her much credit for our success. I saw her about 10 years ago. She told me that at one time, my sisters and I were the state of Virginia’s biggest foster care success. To have a sibling group of three all graduate from high school, much less college, was unheard of.
My husband at the time was in the Army, and soon after the adoption, we were sent to Hawaii for his next duty station. My twins were born about a year and a half later. When they were 9 months old, I left my husband and came back home. He was verbally abusive with anger management issues, and I did not want to raise my boys in that environment. When I left Hawaii, I had 9-month-old twins, a 3-year-old, whatever I could fit in my luggage, and $100.
(posted May 17)
We had to go to court and I was so nervous. This would be the hearing to decide if we could live with our foster/adoptive parents forever. I can remember sitting on a wooden bench in the hallway, waiting and waiting. Finally, our foster/adoptive parents came out of the courtroom and hurried us out of the court. We were about halfway down the hill from the courthouse when I heard my biological mom yell. I turned around to look and she was standing at the top of the hill, waving and yelling, “I’ll never forget you girls!” It was a time of mixed emotions—happy that I am with this family forever, and sad that I betrayed my mom. Since we were now in permanent foster care, we changed our last name to our foster/adoptive parents’ last name.
Life moved on after the court hearing. The three of us thrived in the care of our foster/adoptive family and life was relatively uneventful. We participated in high school sports, attended the prom, dated, had sleepovers with our friends, and learned how to drive a straight/stick-shift. We also had three meals a day, plus lots of ice cream and Little Debbie snacks. We always had heat in the winter. We had clean clothes and a clean home. I knew that I had a life with them that I would have never had with my biological parents. I am positive that our lives would have gone down a very different and troubled path if we had not been removed from our biological parents. I knew my biological mom loved us, but I also knew that she would never be able to give us the care we needed. I did worry about what would happen to her now that the three of us were in permanent foster care. It’s my understanding that our biological dad wasn’t involved at this point because he had outstanding warrants. I’m not sure what he was wanted for. It always seemed to me that my biological mom couldn’t take care of us, and our biological dad wouldn’t. We did still have some limited contact with our maternal grandparents and our maternal aunt and cousins.
(posted May 10)
The phone rings. It’s our social worker, and she wants to talk to me. She tells me that she has exciting news for me. She has found a home for all three of us—and it’s with someone we already know! We were so excited to find out that the gym teacher at our former school wanted us and that we were going to be living with her (and I wasn’t going to have to go to another new school). It was truly a miracle. At least, it was to me. It was all I had hoped for.
I don’t remember being sad about leaving the foster home. I think we were just so happy that we were going to be living with someone we knew. But can you imagine what it was like when we pulled up into the school parking lot and came walking in with the gym teacher? And not only did we ride to school with the gym teacher, we also had on new clothes, new coats, we were clean, and our hair was brushed. I’m sure it caused quite the stir among our classmates. And I’m also sure that we were asked a million questions that day. How do you answer questions about why you’re living with the gym teacher, or why you can’t live with your own mom and dad? I’m not sure how I answered them, but I know that it was embarrassing to be so different from all my classmates.
We had regular visits with our biological parents and sometimes our maternal grandparents during this time. All things considered, we adjusted well to our new family and were very happy there. They took us to Disney World and Daytona Beach our first summer with them. We learned how to garden (we pulled up all of the carrots because we thought they were weeds) and how to ride a riding mower (now that was fun!). Christmas was just like I remembered it being when we were little and life was simple. Around fifth grade, visits with our biological family grew sporadic. When it was time for school in the sixth grade, we had to change schools. So that fall, I started in my twelfth school. Life was as normal as it can be when you’re in foster care. My friends would ask me why I called my parents by their first names instead of “mom” and “dad.” I never really knew what to say, so I just learned to call them “my parents.” This pattern continued for the next several years, only the visits with our biological family ceased. When I was in the seventh grade, our social worker came to our home and talked to us about living with our foster/adoptive family forever. I can remember all three of us smiling and nodding our heads “yes.” I also remember feeling a pang of guilt, a twinge of betrayal that I didn’t want to go live with my biological mom and dad. After all, they were my mom and dad. But I also knew that they couldn’t and wouldn’t take care of us, and I did not want us going back to the life we used to live.
(posted May 3)
From my point of view, my childhood started out very typical. I had a mother and father. I was the oldest of three girls. My dad worked, and my mom was home with the three of us. But when I was in the first grade, something happened. I was too young to understand. I still don’t fully know. I do know that moment began a chain of events that were tough, emotional, and many times beyond my control.
We moved out of our home and into another house. The house beside ours was sitting way down in a sinkhole, and our house was way up on a big hill. They had chickens everywhere (in and out of the house), and even at my young age, I knew they were poor and that they weren’t clean. I remember our landlord coming by once and being mad because my sisters and I were sleigh riding down that big hill and right out into the road. No one was watching us. Not long after that, I remember hearing that my mom was “sick” and then she was gone for a few days. Then it wasn’t too long before we were evicted from our house. It was the first time I lost everything I owned. I remember my maternal grandparents came and picked up the three of us and our biological mom. It was a confusing time to me because I couldn’t understand why we were having to leave everything behind. I will never forget being in the back of my granddaddy’s car, up on my knees looking out the back window, crying and begging him to stop because my dog was running after us as fast as she could. It seemed to me like she knew we were leaving, and that we weren’t coming back.
We lived with our maternal grandparents for a short while. I’m not sure why, but we ended up moving in with two of my paternal aunts. They lived in a single-wide trailer, so it was crowded. I was in the second grade by this time. We changed schools so many times that my sister and I almost failed. One day at school, they called me to the office. There was a police officer and some other people (social workers, I’m sure). They loaded us up into the police car and took us away. This would be the second time in my life that I lost everything I owned—except this time, I lost my parents. They took us to a group home that had boys and girls of all ages. There were little kids like us, and rough teenagers, too. When the other residents came in from school, this older girl came to our door and said, “Hey, this is my room!” I puffed my chest out, stood up, and said, “Well this is our room now!” I had become my sisters’ protector. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my family, but I knew I had to keep my sisters safe.
I’m not sure how long we were in the group home. We were eventually returned to our biological parents and we moved to Virginia. One year, a social worker came in at Christmas and said, “Look, girls, I bought you a Christmas present!” She had our biological dad with her, who had been in jail. I knew that she meant he was our present, but my sisters thought she had an actual gift for them so they were pretty disappointed. My dad spent time in and out of jail. In the fourth grade, I watched police pull him out of the closet where he was hiding so they could take him to jail. Around that same time, my mom got “sick” again, but this time it was worse. She was scary. The mom who fussed over us, fixed our hair, and made pancakes for us was gone. She slept all day. At night, she would walk around the house in the dark, talking to herself. I tried to take care of my sisters. When we had food, I cooked. Many days, the only thing we had to eat was school lunch. We were often cold in the winter because we couldn’t afford heating oil. Our extended biological family didn’t come around much at all. I only remember seeing my maternal grandparents a few times. I’m not sure why they didn’t help us—and things just kept getting worse.
One day, while I’m sitting in my favorite teacher’s class, I got called to the principal’s office. Again, I am puzzled because I love school and I never caused trouble. In the principal’s office, I find a police officer and our social worker. They load us in the police car and take us to a foster home. This is the third time I’ve lost everything I own. And I start over again with my eleventh school.
Our foster parents were OK. I think they did the best they could with us. But we had been running wild for years without any supervision. We went to bed when we were sleepy. We got up when we woke up. I’m sure we were a handful for parents trying to get us in a routine. Eventually, I was told by our social worker that we were “too much for them” and that she was looking for a new home for us. That’s when the reality hit me—my sisters and I could be separated. Already, I’m not even 10 years old, and I’ve lost everything I owned three times, my parents twice, and now there’s a chance that I am going to lose the two people that mean more to me than all of those things combined.
A Foster Child’s Journey is a six-part series tracing the trials and triumphs of a personal foster care experience. A new chapter will be uploaded each Friday in May.