May 30, 2012
Guest Blog: "Don't Push Us Out, Stand Up For Us"
Breonia and her daughter at the 2012 Edward V. Sparer Symposium, where Breonia spoke about her experience in foster care as a member of Youth Speakers Bureau.
[Ed. note: This post is part of a series of blog posts Juvenile Law Center will be publishing during National Foster Care Month to call attention to issues facing foster youth who are aging out of the system.]
I did not age out of foster care. I was pushed out, and too many kids are pushed out of foster care each year before they are ready. Without a real plan and support, I have struggled. As a young woman who spent many years in foster care, I am used to facing challenges, but I think the child welfare system could do much more to help us face the challenges involved in becoming an adult. Rather than pushing us out, I wish the child welfare system and those who run it would stand up for us, fight for us.
The system should show us much more tolerance, care, support, and humanity than it does. It is pretty simple: we want the court, caseworkers, and lawyers to treat us as they would their own children. If you are going to do or say something to a youth in foster care that you would not do or say to your own child, don't. If you would give your own child the best chance to succeed and give them second, third, and fourth chances to grow and learn, why won't the foster care system give kids in care the same chances? The system walks away from foster youth too quickly and they do suffer. You would not give up on your own child this easily.
The child welfare system gave up on me. To this day, the words of my case worker at my last court hearing when my case was closed ring in my ears: "Close her case. If she wants to be grown, let her be grown." When you hit 18, you do want to be grown, but you need support and guidance to be a successful adult. I was not perfect when I was 18 and I am not perfect now. Most of us are not. But I, like many other youth who become adults while in foster care, was fighting for myself and my future, and no one was listening. No one saw my strengths and potential. When problems arise, children in care need the child welfare system to help them. Giving up on us and pushing us out is not fair and makes no sense. It does not help anyone for foster youth to age out to homelessness. Without a place to live, they often end up in dangerous situations, have a hard time meeting their basic needs, and keeping a job.
In the end, children in care need to have adults who listen to them, care about them, and take them seriously. We need people who understand our past, but see the brightest future ahead for us and want to help us get there. If you listen to us, respect us, and stand up for us, I have hope that children who are still in foster care will not "age out" on their own to the street; they will have a real chance to succeed.