COMING INTO CARE
Teens remember their first days in care
Without my family
I remember it was about 9 oíclock and there was a knock at the door.
I was happy because I thought it was my mother. But it was the cops. I was so scared because I didnít know what was about to happen or what was going on. There were four cops and three white ladies and they were there to take everyone under the age of 18. I was nowhere near 18 so I knew I was f--ked. I knew I was never going to be able to return to that house again. My whole body shut down. All I could think about was how I was never going to see my brothers, and I started to cry.
Out of nowhere my mother busted through the door
talking about, ďWhy are you people here?"
The cop just said, ďDonít say anything, mama. Weíre just here to take the little ones. You can take it up with your lawyer.Ē
At that point I knew that these people were taking me and my brothers and sisters to a place where we were not going to be able to get away.
It didnít last
The cops dropped us off at this big building. We stayed at that building for one or two weeks, but it felt like forever. When they finally took us out it was a Wednesday and it was dark outside. They were taking us to my auntís house. Her name is Flor and her house was the best house that they could bring us to because I loved and respected her more than anybody else. She was the only one there for me when I really needed someone to cry on and to talk to.
When I was living with my aunt, I had everything. But that didnít last long.
My life was over
After three months my sister started acting up. One day she took it upon herself to put her hands on one of my little brothers and my aunt had to put her in a resting position just so she could chill. But my sister and my mother blew it out of proportion and made these damned white people come and take us out of my auntís house and just separate us. Thatís when I knew my life was over, starting that day.
When they came to get us I was so scared that my cousin Nelly came and grabbed me up and took me into the projects across the street so they could not take me. But as soon as I looked down the block I saw three men carrying my little brothers and their things away.
My heart grew a pain that no one ever felt before. I dropped down to my knees and started crying. I could not believe it, and I couldnít believe that it was happening all over again. I knew that I wasnít gonna be able to handle the system without my family.
Someone else's home
It happened so fast, with no warning. It came and hit me just like that. My first day in foster care, I was so confused, so lost, I didnít even know what was going on. I only caught a glimpse of my grandmotherís downhearted look as we were leaving. I cried as I stood there, dying inside, no knowledge of what lay before me, what my future would be like. All that was happening around me was drowned away by my tears.
Into the unknown
I was put into a car with my brother and sister, all of our things packed in blue garbage bags. We were taken to a recreation center-type place. It was a nice place, but it sure as hell didnít make up for the fact that Iíd just been taken from my family. After spending the night there, we were again put into a car and driven to an unknown location. My sister was dropped off first. Then we stopped and my brother and I got out of the car.
We were in front of a building that loomed over me like a skyscraper. We went inside and up the stairs, my heart beating like a conga drum. When my social worker knocked at one of the doors, I stepped back.
A new routine
We were greeted and invited in, into a home I was not familiar with, with people I had never seen before in my life. I was frightened out of my mind. I didnít understand why I had to be here, in this apartment, with these people I did not know. That night I couldnít sleep. I stayed up most of the night crying and wishing I was with my family again. I reflected on memories that seemed so distant, so long ago.
The next morning was the beginning of an undying routine. I would get home, go to the room and stay there. The only time Iíd leave was when my foster mother called me out to eat dinner. She had two other children and we all sat at the dinner table. We all just sat there, silent, rushing to finish so that we could go back to our pre-dinner activities. I always had this lingering feeling of isolation, like I didnít belong with this family.
Eventually I moved on to other homes, where those
feelings all came back. All the fear and isolation were more or less the
same in every place. The truth is, you never really get used to being in
someone elseís home, no matter how many homes youíve been to. It takes a
great foster parent and a welcoming home to make you feel like you
Who am I now?
Another torturous day in hell. A few weeks had passed since my dadís release from jail and my familyís eviction from our home, and nothing had improved. My 10 brothers and sisters and I were still crashing out with my dad at his girlfriendís tiny apartment, along with her two children. We were not attending school, barely eating, sleeping on hard floors and working like slaves in her house. We cooked, we cleaned and we took care of her baby.
After about a month, my dad decided to opt out. He said he couldnít take care of us anymore, not that he ever really did. He said we had the option of either going into a shelter together or being split up amongst the family. We chose the shelter, but he chose the split, so off we went to live with different family members. I, along with one of my sisters and three of my brothers, went to live with our uncle, who we barely knew.
I didnít really feel the pain and anger of the separation until about a week in. I missed my other brothers and sisters and was tired of this foreign home, where I didnít feel much like family. I even began to miss those annoying days in a crowded house with no privacy.
Then one day my uncle, a man of lectures who was big on family meetings, sat us all down in the basement with his own children for a discussion. Thatís when he told us we were becoming his foster children.
It all changed that very second. My cousins started calling me their sister (sometimes with Ďfosterí in front of it). My aunt and uncle started calling me their daughter and setting rules down for me to follow. Rules. Iíd never once encountered them with my own mother or father. The way of the house stayed the same, but in my mind the whole dynamic changed.
I was now a foster child. The term was loaded with
meaning and unleashed so many different feelings in me. For the rest of
my life, I thought Iíd have to deal with people looking down on or
pitying us as the family no one really cared about. Iíd have to deny and
try to hide my identity, all because of him. My father had already done
so much wrong to me and my family. Now he had abandoned us, and the era
of my hatred for him began.
Out of confusion, a new start
We were in a car. My older sister was upset, talking loudly, complaining how her twin had just been snatched from us. The social worker was silent. Heíd already explained to us the protocol: weíd spend the night in this building where they collect foster kids. ďLike a kidnapping agency or something,Ē I thought to myself.
He was the one that had done the ďsnatchingĒ earlier that day. He went into my sisterís school and said he was from ACS and here to take her. Jerk. She must have been humiliated, and scared. I was scared, wondering if Iíd ever see her again.
A holding pen
The building was in the city. I didnít like it. It wasnít a group home, but it wasnít one of your regular agencies, either. It was a holding pen. For kidnapped youth. It had to be. We didnít have all of our clothes with us. My mother had kept telling us that weíd be back, and not to take anything. I knew not to believe her, I knew it was just another lie, but my sister, she was naÔve. She didnít even bring her backpack.
The room we slept in was huge. It had four twin-sized beds on each side, and everything was peach and white. Even the sheets. Some lady took our picture, gave us a medical exam, two white T-shirts, pink pajamas and green sweats, then sent us off to our peach-colored beds. I went to sleep wondering if my other sister was okay.
They woke us up early for breakfast. My sister was pissed by that time. She wanted to speak with her twin, wanted to be back with our mother. I stayed quiet. I didnít understand too much of what was going on, but I wasnít living in the shelter anymore, so that was something to be grateful about. We met the other kids that were living in the holding pen. They were all teenagers, around my sisterís age. They were fun. Later that day, we all went to the movies together. I couldnít understand what my sister had been complaining about. Aside from the peachy walls, I was enjoying myself.
As soon as we got back from the movies, my sister and I were told that we were going to be transferred to a home. I thought that was very speedy since a couple of the girls I spoke with said they had been in the holding pen for months.
The car ride to Queens was interesting. It felt like a road trip. So many questions kept popping into my head. ďWhere am I going? Is my other sister there? How long are we staying there for?Ē I wondered if I would see my school again.
My other sister was already at the house when we got
there. So was this stranger, and her family. She was kind, but I still
didnít know who she was, or why the three of us were living with her.
The ins and outs of foster care were only explained later. I thought it
was a nice alternative to being homeless. I missed my mom, but it was
also a breath of fresh air to be away from her. It felt like a new
start, like I was given a second chance to have a decent family, a
decent life. I never knew foster care did that.
I didnít know what to expect
Iíve been in the foster care system ever since I was born. But growing up, I always lived with different relatives.
When I was 8, my brother and I went to live with my aunt in New Jersey. Life with her was hell. My aunt and uncle were verbally and physically abusive. We endured it for six years, until my aunt called ACS and told them she couldnít deal with my brother anymore.
I told ACS to come get me, too, because I hated it there and didnít want to be anywhere without my brother. But I had to wait three more months, until I graduated from 8th grade. ACS finally came and removed me from my auntís house. My aunt wasnít home at the time, but my clothing and everything had been packed the night before.
Before placing me in my new foster home, ACS took me to some kind of group facility in Brooklyn. They registered me, took my belongings and sent me up to where all the other kids were. I felt like I was in a juvenile center. The kids were wearing gray uniforms, and their rooms looked like cell blocks.
A lady introduced me to some of the kids who were in the main area watching a movie. She told me that many of these kids were here because of abuse, or were just runaways. One girl looked as though she had just gotten out of a fight, with her hair all messed up.
Then another lady showed me to my room and offered me clothing, toiletries, and socks. I tried to explain to her that I wasnít going to be staying there for long, but she kept insisting that I take them. I didnít. I had no idea where those clothes had been before me. In the end, I only stayed for a couple of hours until my social worker came and got me.
A new home
It was about two in the morning when I arrived at my new foster home. Surprisingly, my brother, little sister and my foster motherís daughter, sister, and brother were still awake.
I had spoken to my new foster mother a couple of hours before arriving. She sounded nice and asked me what I wanted for dinner. I told her Chinese food and, sure enough, when I got there she had it for me. She greeted me with a big bear hug, almost crushing me because I was so little at the time. It felt kind of awkward, yet nice. I wasnít used to getting hugged.
My heart seemed to jump out of my chest as she went
around the room introducing everyone to me. These people were a bunch of
new faces, and I was scared and nervous because I didnít know what to
expect from them. This was now considered my family.
My freedom was snatched
There I was in a Salvation Army van on my way to my first foster home with nothing to call my own. It was one oíclock in the morning and I felt restless and annoyed, with a twist of anxiety. We turned onto a beautiful, quiet block in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I got out of the car and my caseworker led the way.
A chubby lady with an overlapping belly opened the front door and I stepped in cautiously. She had nappy hair and her teeth were very yellow. ďShe kinda looks like the Grinch that stole Christmas,Ē I thought. Like it or not, this was my new foster mother.
When ACS picked me up from school that day, I felt like my freedom was snatched while I wasnít looking. They told me my mother had been arrested, so my younger brother Alan, little sister Cearra and I had to go to a foster home.
I didnít know what to expect. All Iíd heard about the system was that children often fought, stole and got into trouble with each other. I couldnít believe this was happening to me. Would I ever see my family again?
I felt like the system had just interrupted an interesting story I was telling to a friend ó my story. Now I had to start following their story line. It would take a while before I figured out how to beat the system by writing my own script.