When teens are in the foster care system, there is a whole new level of challenges to meet, skills to follow and rules to learn that they must learn to survive - Part three of on ongoing series
WASHINGTON, January 9, 2016 – You have parents, I have guardians. I began my life in state custody at an early age, was returned home to my mother years later, and then returned to the system. I had run away from home, and refused to return.
My mother’s boyfriend tried to molest me and I refused to live with them. I was fourteen.
As a child of seven, my brother and I began our indoctrination in Florida’s foster care system. Once I became a teenager, I was placed in a group home for girls.
On a monthly basis I attend court and I am questioned about my life in foster care, my progress in school, my emotional and mental state of mind and physical health in front of strangers. It is an embarrassing and uncomfortable feeling.
Worse than that, I have had to watch a full year pass by with my mother doing nothing to return me to our home and my brother. She obviously thought I might come between her and her boyfriend.
She had a choice. He won, I lost.
After a year of permanancy passed by, and she remained non-compliant, her parental rights were terminated. That sealed my fate.
Now I find myself in an awkward situation. I was just kissed on the lips by a girl named Vanessa. We were sitting on my bed talking casually, when suddenly, she got all dreamy-eyed and syrupy on me. Before I knew it, her mouth was crushing down on mine.
“Vanessa!” I exclaimed and so loud it reberrated in my head. I was shocked. My heart was pounding like a jackhammer.
What was really bizzare was that I kissed her back a second later. What had gotten into me, I asked myself?
After tossing a triumphant smile my way, she kissed me on the forehead, stood up and left. By then, a couple of the girls had congregated at the entrance to my room wanting to know what had transpired.
Stunned, I sat there frozen. My mind had gone completely blank. When I finally came out of my stupor, I hugged myself tightly. By now, my roommate had returned from the shower room. She wanted to know what happened, too, thanks to the curious crowd at the entrance of our room.
Ms. Jean, one of my favorite house mothers, entered the room and asked me what occured. I told her what went down. I also assured her that I had done nothing to solicit the response I got from Vanessa. She assured me that she would have a talk with her after she left me.
No, I did not tell her that I kissed Vanessa back. You cannot be a snitch here and survive and that was all I was trying to do….survive.
Were they trying to turn me, I pondered? Weirder things had happened in my life. Then I replayed it all in my mind. As a child, I was snatched from my home in the dead of night, ordered into foster care, was nearly raped, ran away, got into several fights and survived it all. I was certain I would survive this experience too.
Life goes on.
Tomorrow my guardian ad litem, Ms. Pimperton, who is a person appointed by the court, is scheduled to visit with me. She is also known as a GAL. GAL volunteers and professionals report to the dependency court judge and ensures that the child gets the right combination of care and services and that the child has a voice and receives what they need while in foster care.
I have had a few GALs during my years of indoctrination in the system and my feelings are mixed about them. Some are understanding and relate well with children while others are somewhat emotionally distant.
The professional types, like former lawyers, judges, and teachers, seemed only interested in the process and not me as an individual, or person. Darnell, my case worker, is altogether different than they.
When I need to get away from this madhouse, he does his best to make room in his busy schedule to come over and talk to me, and if possible, take me away for a half hour or more to simmer down. We’d go to a fast food restaurant or to a park to talk. GALs do not get that involved. Yes, they have their roles to play and most of them take it pretty seriously.
Darnell takes his job seriously too. But he is more approachable and more accessible to me. And we have bonded. He’s even met Javier, my boyfriend.
While I would never talk to a GAL about my lesbian encounters, I just do not know them that well, I would talk to Darnell, and my psychiatrist, Ms. Grimes without hesitation.
What I tell them is kept confidential, for the most part. That allows me to open up. With Darnell, I really open up. I know what I share with him is not going to be reported to the judge, unless it is something detrimental to my health or safety.
The following morning, I spoke to Vanessa and told her never to do that again if we were going to remain friends. I was firm with her. I reminded her that I had a romantic love interest and his name was Javier, not Vanessa. She apologized half-heartedly and went about her way.
This was a game to her.
Forgiveness was something my mother taught me, except when an act so despicable and deplorable that you had to leave it in the hands of the Almighty. Vanessa’s kiss, though distasteful and sinful in nature, did not reach a level where I could not forgive her.
After school, I met with the GAL. It went pretty well. She was cordial, I was polite. My mind was really on my upcoming orientation in a Florida program known as Project Independence. It helped teenagers like myself prepare for life in the real world.
Their goal is to teach us life skills such as balancing a checkbook, preparing for a job interview, how to groom ourselves, and how to open up a bank account. Other survival skills included teaching us about nutrition and how to grocery shop and cook.
At some point in time, I get to move into an apartment with another girl in the program.
When I returned from my orientation that evening, there were several squad cars and an ambulance parked in front of the group home, all flashing red and blue lights.
Anxiety suddenly gripped me. A gurney was being rolled in.
Fear coursed through my body while my heart raced wildly. What had happened while I was gone, I pondered nervously? None of this looked good…not at all.
To be continued….
CS Bennett – Author of Court Ordered Custody and its sequel Court Approved Custody about life in the foster care system. Both books can be found on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Online Bookstore.
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