“Camila” aged-out of the foster care system and shares her story as a 19-year-old. She was in foster care for ten years, from the time she was 7-years-old.

Camila was frustrated about family visits. Her biological family went to visitations “but the foster parent rarely took me and my sibling […] because they were planning to adopt us. Me and my siblings love going to see our mother, but our case worker kept losing the paper. And making excuse about letting us see our mother, she told us we were going to be adopted when we were little.” She described how the foster system failed her: “The judge was planning to let us go home to our mother, but out caseworker […] told the judge she wasn’t ready when she was. I am the oldest child and knew that she lied. Why did she help the foster parent adopt and separate me and my siblings? The CPS system never helped me. They even called us foster kids disabled when we were not. We were always picked on in middle school. They knew we were foster kids because the foster parent told them.” She had nothing positive to say about her foster care experience. “I just cried and wanted to go home.” The worst part of her fostering experience: “Me and my sister were molested by another, older kid in foster care at age 8.” Understandably, Camila did not have much to say about this and does not define what happened. But it raises more questions about exposure to abuse and neglect while in foster care and underreporting. She described her adoptive experience as “Horrifying. They tried to manipulate me and told me I was a loser. They robbed me of my childhood. [They] separated me and 3 of my siblings because they couldn’t have any kids of their own.”

“I wish I was that lucky to overcome what they did to us. I can’t even see my siblings because of them [CPS]. They sucked the money dry from us and benefitted from us. I didn’t have a proper education and I was moved up a grade every year.” When asked what she thought the purpose of the foster care system was, Camila said, “To help us, not take advantage of us.” It is a hopeful response, but also points to the injustice she feels. But her anger is clear, too. In response to the question, “Is there anything else you think the world should know about foster care?” Camila said, “Find a good lawyer, sue the hell out of them and win against the stress every child goes through. No child deserves to go through that.”


 

Insights:

There are few themes in Camila’s story that resound with other youth stories. First, she feels that the interference with her family was unjustified. Second, she accuses the caseworker and adoptive-foster parent of colluding. Third, like many older children in a sibling group who enter care, she is angry because she cannot see her younger siblings that are still in-care. Sometimes caseworkers or foster parents facilitate visits between siblings, but they are not generally required to. Moreover, in some cases, like when the younger child is adopted, the older children can be prevented from visiting.

She also points to something that many fostered youth refer to indirectly—the stigma of being in-care. She talks about the labeling of “disabled” and the humiliation experienced in school. She also mentions how did not get a fair education. Camila had 19 foster care placements during her ten years in-care. It is well-understood that frequent moves and school disruptions put fostered children far behind the general population—even in the worst school systems. Some states are beginning to address to the dramatic educational disservice fostered youth experience, but there are no conclusions about how this should be done or done effectively. Ironically, many states implemented programs to help fostered youth achieve higher education before improving rates of high school graduation. Fostered youth are twice as likely as their peers to drop out of high school.[1],[2] More than a third of foster care alumni lack a high school diploma or GED.[3] While only five percent of high school peers get a GED, 28 percent of foster care alumni get a GED.[4]

 

[1] Improving Higher Education Outcomes for Students from Foster Care. Casey Family Programs. Seattle, WA. <www.casey.org>

[2] Gerber, Judith & Sheryl Dicker. 2005-2006. Children Adrift: Addressing the Educational Needs of New York’s Foster Children. 69 Alb L. Rev. 1,4.

[3] Courtney, Mark & Amy Dworksy. 2005. Early Outcomes for Young Adults Transitioning from Out-of-Home Care in the USA. 11 Child & Fam. Soc .Work, 209, 212.

[4] Eyster, Lauren & Sarah Looney Oldmixon. 2007. State Policies to Help Youth Transition Out of Foster Care, Issue Brief. NGA Center for Best Practices. Washington, D.C. <www.nga.org>