The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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When the Private Becomes Public
Foster care puts you on display
N. Harris
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Names have been changed.

I am a shy and reserved person, but when I went into care I was thrown out to the public. It was hard to be a private person answering very personal questions from people who suddenly had control over my fate.

I went into care when I was 14 because my mom’s boyfriend molested me. I’ve always been a quiet person, and I’ve always liked being by myself. Yet I was comfortable talking to adults if I had a problem. That all changed after I was molested. When I told my mother what her boyfriend had done, she did not believe me. He was still around, and I believed that since my own mother did not care or believe me other people wouldn’t either. I told only my sister, who told my brother’s girlfriend, who told Child Protective Services (CPS).

That meant that just as my sisters and I were being taken away from our mother, I had to be examined by a random nurse. This was an extreme invasion of my personal space. I had never even had a boyfriend, much less sexual intercourse, and I was asked to take a pregnancy test. I felt exposed and vulnerable.

The first stop when you go into care in New York City is the Children’s Center, which people called “the holding center.” When we got there, they informed me and my sisters, Anika and Jasmine, that we might have to stay there for as long as five months since there were three of us and we wanted to be placed together.

We were driven to school in a worn-out black van. I didn’t want people at school to know that I was in foster care, but the driver told the school security guards that we were coming from the holding center, which made me mad.

My classmate Maya asked me why I was taking a van home. I told her my mother’s friend was picking me up because she had to work late. I did not trust anyone, so I lied to her. I knew it was bad to do so, but I couldn’t see any other way to maintain my privacy. Even now the security guards stare at me from time to time because they know my situation. I feel like I’m on display, always wondering who else knows I’m in care.

A Relief to Talk

In the holding center, most other kids were with their brothers and sisters except one girl, maybe 7 or 8, who didn’t know where her siblings were. She was constantly looking for them. My sisters and I felt bad for her and pretended that we weren’t sisters to make her feel better. The fact that I had sisters was the only secret I was able to keep from anyone in the holding center.

On the fourth day, I found out we’d be going to a foster home the next day. I felt worried and confused and wanted to talk to someone. I was so overwhelmed by the holding center and the next day’s move that I told my English teacher what had been going on. She recommended that I talk to my guidance counselor. She was a complete stranger, but I did.

My guidance counselor asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I’m going to be put in a foster home,” I said, fast.

“Why?”

“Because I can’t live with my mom.” I told her my worries about loss of privacy and getting a bad foster parent.

“Take it easy, everything happens for the best. Maybe God put you in the holding center to make you stronger. Maybe the foster home might be a good home to live in,” she said.

image by YC-Art Dept

It was nice to have someone to talk to, but anyone could have told me that. It did not help at all.

However, I did not stop talking to her. She gave me time and support, and even though her responses weren’t great, it was a relief to let it out. As I told her about my situation and my fears, I wondered why I couldn’t talk about my issues with my own mother.

Pretending She’s My Real Mom

The next day, my two sisters and I were driven to our foster home in the black van. We were the first and only foster children in the house, which helped me feel more at home. We didn’t have to pretend that we weren’t sisters like at the holding center.

When the social worker left, our new foster mother told us to call her “Mother Rose.” My sisters opposed the idea, and part of me thought, “I don’t even know you.” On the other hand, she might become a mother figure for me and my sisters. And calling her that helped me hide that I was in care: When we went to parent-teacher conferences, I told a few of my teachers that she was my mother.

At first, the social worker, Mr. Horace, came to the house frequently and asked us questions: “Do you feel safe?”; “Is there food in the house?”; How’s school?”; and “Is your foster mom treating you and your sisters well?” I was not used to being asked those types of questions that frequently. I wondered why they would place children in foster homes if they thought something might be wrong with them. Plus, he asked me those things in front of my foster mother, which made no sense.

In school, I was able to hide the fact that I was in foster care. When people asked about my family, I said Rose was my mother. Nothing about being in care felt OK to tell people. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or from a bad background.

I shut down. I knew a close friend would want to know about my personal life, so I avoided making close friends. In school, I acted like my life was great and never invited my friends home.

Choosing When to Tell

At the same time, I knew that it would be better to tell someone the truth. People have told me that if I keep it all in, I’m going to go crazy. I told certain people a bit of what was going on, trying to pick people who seemed to take an interest in my well-being.

There were a lot of conference meetings after we were placed. We had to meet with people and talk about the events that led up to our removal. I didn’t know those people, and I was not happy with the fact that they knew so much about me.

They would tell me that our conversations were “confidential,” but then new people would tell me that they felt sorry for me and ask me to tell them how I felt about it. Everyone knew the details of my assault. They lied to me, and I lost trust.

The first person I told voluntarily was a high school classmate I’d known a little since middle school. She seemed like she cared about me, and I badly wanted a friend because I did not have any. I put my trust in her and told her everything that had happened.

That was a terrible mistake. To every bad thing that happened to me, she responded by telling me about the great things in her life. For example, when I told her my foster mother was cheating me on my allowance, she responded that she was getting a new phone. I realized that she was not truly my friend; she wanted only to make herself look better than me. After that I become even more private. I did tell my boyfriend, and he reacted well, which made us closer.

Writing about my experiences for Represent has helped with my privacy issues. I now tell more of my friends that I’m in care. I’ve learned from reading and talking to the other writers that everyone goes through difficult things, and we can learn from each other’s experiences. I want to be more open about my story because now I know it can help other people.

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(FCYU-2017-04-19)

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