Imagine getting ripped away from everything you know and love: your home, family, community, and school. Imagine being thrown into a strange house in a strange neighborhood with strange people you’ve never even met before. You eat their food, sleep in their beds, but most importantly, follow their rules. These people can now exercise arbitrary power over you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. This situation is a reality for some 400,000 youth in the US. They are the victims of a cruel and unreasonable system that needs to be changed.
As if this situation wasn’t difficult enough, there are bureaucratic rules that are utterly insensible. The foster family agency (FFA) I belong to, Agape, will not allow a 15-year-old girl (me) to go to the park with my ten-year-old sister alone.
Their reasoning? It would be considered “babysitting.” I am not allowed to be home alone. I cannot use kitchen knives unsupervised. I cannot eat cough drops without the prescription of a doctor. Every piece of clothing I’ve ever owned or bought must be written down, documented, and recorded.
Stacks and stacks of paperwork prevent a halfway-normal existence. These social workers, my so-called “advocates,” would defend these rules. They would say the rules are for my own protection, but the truth is, they exist to protect the agencies. After all, nobody wants to get sued over a foster child. To these agencies, the kid doesn’t matter. All I’m worth is a stack of papers, sitting on someone’s desk.
Foster youth are told that they have the right to be free from physical or emotional abuse, but seldom is this right actualized. When incidents in the foster home occur, they often go unreported. Social workers are often so overloaded with their caseloads that they do not have time to truly protect a kid. This leads to many foster youth living in environments that are unhealthy not only physically, but emotionally as well.
Often people think that if foster youth have food and drink, a place to sleep, and clothes on their backs, they’re all good. They give us the bare necessities, and expect us to lower ourselves to these standards. This is dehumanizing, as the system discourages youths from having wants or expectations.
Without wants, there are no goals, no aspirations, and no hopes. Foster youths need to be supported on a level above the bare minimum. We should be allowed to enjoy things we like and reject things we don’t like. We should be allowed to have opinions and preferences.
Perhaps the most daunting aspect of being a foster kid is the dreaded question: what will happen when I age out of foster care? California implemented Assembly Bill 12 in 2012, allowing for the continued financial support of steadily employed or student foster youth until the age of 21. Given the circumstances, however, this criteria is quite difficult to meet.
Looking at how the system destroys individuals, it’s no surprise that 25 percent of foster youth are incarcerated within the first two years of emancipation, while 22.2 percent experience homelessness.
On the other side of the spectrum, only 1.8 percent of foster youth will complete a bachelor’s degree. AB12 was a step in the right direction, but it did not solve the problem. At the age of 18 or 21, no one would be prepared to be completely cut off from financial support. Imagine being shut out onto the street at that age, all alone in the world. What would you do?
What will I do? I don’t know. Luckily, I managed to stay in my school and community, and I have family in the area. But I still suffered the consequences of a crime I did not commit. My heart goes out to my displaced, fostered comrades. There is an obvious flaw in the existing system, yet nothing is being done to fix it. We need change.