Today I was driving and slowed down at a stop light. I looked to my right and sitting there was a young girl I had worked with in foster care as her case manager and therapist. I had also provided services for her and her sister while they resided together in a foster home. I had not seen her in about four years. The last time I saw her she looked much different. She was young, maybe 15 and still had a sweet air about her. We worked with her for several years but she eventually left and was discharged to another placement, for reasons that I cannot remember.
So I rolled down my window and asked her how she was doing, as I had heard a few years ago she had runaway out of foster care and returned to her mother. Her sister had also done so. I asked, “So are you with your mother?” She told me that no, her mother was mad at her. Then I said, “How is your sister?” She said her sister was being sentenced to six months state jail on Friday.
It was a hard moment. This young girl looking at me at the bus stop was much different than the one I had known. She now looked hardened and tough and street wise. Her skin looked rough and I noticed cheap blue tattoos on her hands. I remember her sister very well too as I had worked hard to make things go right for her. But an over zealous court appointed attorney and guardian had interfered with her treatment so much that we could no longer manage the sister anymore. I know the attorney’s intentions were good, but she only wound up having her taken from our care to another and another and another placement until this sister finally ran away. Sad ending indeed with state jail sentencing on Friday
But then there’s the case of one boy I worked with from middle school to high school graduation, whose life turned out so much differently. I see him regularly at a place of business I frequent and where he works. He always updates me on how he is doing and how is new little boy is growing. He works at least two jobs and is returning to school under the tuition waiver program. What is different about this boy I don’t know. I know he was able to stay with the same foster parent for at least seven years, stayed out of trouble and played football. After he left foster care he roomed with two other former foster boys we knew , and he eventually found a girlfriend. I know he was able to join her family, who had a vested interest in him and his well being. He has a healthy extended family who love him and try to guide him. The girl at the bus stop and her sister never got this.
I think my point is that as a kid growing up in foster care, so much of your life depends on luck. Do you get a good foster parent, a good agency, a good CPS worker, a good Attorney Ad Litem, find an adoptive home? In my experience the biggest safety net for these kids is adoption by either a relative or non-relative. The care and love of an adult(s) over the long term is what I think saved the boy I just described. The young girl at the bus stop and her sister never had any luck that shined their way.