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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Congratulations Winners! #124
How Would You Improve Foster Care?
Writing Contest Winners

1st Prize $150 winner + $200 “wish certificate” from One Simple Wish
Support Groups of Youth in Care

My little sister and I moved through foster care in three states with a haunting sense of isolation and deficiency. We were afraid of revealing our situation to our peers. The shame associated with life in care destroyed our ability to form or join communities, leading us further from the sense of belonging we craved.

When I finally fostered friendships secure enough for disclosure, my friends’ acceptance, compassion, and understanding helped me heal. How could I become a whole person if I couldn’t accept basic facts about myself? I found that lying about my life was more damaging to my self-esteem than the reality, because I wanted to live the lie more than I wanted to live my own life.

Unless you live in a group home, or worse, in a juvenile detention center, you rarely have contact with others in your same situation.

I propose that agencies around the nation make an effort to connect foster kids to each other in support groups. Drug addicts, alcoholics, and those suffering from grief or mental illness all have support groups. These are places where people can begin to build a foundation from compassion and understanding. To support assimilation of damaged youth into society, we need a place for honest expression. From this place of security, crisis intervention and other outreach programs will be more effective, and long-term mentors can be identified.

If we had a place to go where we could discuss life in the system, maybe we could break away from the stigma. Perhaps we could even be proud of our struggle to better ourselves.

Andrea Sumrall, 19
Brooklyn, NY

2nd Prize $100 winner + $100 “wish certificate” from One Simple Wish
Hire More Workers

One of the biggest problems with foster care is how overworked all the workers seem to be. I’ve noticed that workers have trouble being reimbursed when they pay for a toll to visit a child at their home. I’ve seen people start to work at my agency, and within a few weeks look noticeably tired. Two of them quit.

Overworked social workers make kids feel like a burden and we’re less likely to voice concerns. I think we need more workers to lower the caseload on each individual. Happier workers are better workers and they make foster kids more comfortable and give them more attention.

People who work at foster care agencies are overworked and held responsible for all sorts of things that are out of their control. It makes the job unpleasant and that unpleasantness is something children pick up on. It creates larger problems that affect the way foster kids and their social workers interact, and affects foster kids’ view of the system. If kids can’t count on their workers, they will lose faith in the entire system.

Brian Cordero, 17
Staten Island, NY

3rd Prize $50 winner + $50 “wish certificate” from One Simple Wish
More Staff; Consistent Rules and Guidelines

Foster care agencies should hire more staff—for both staff and resident safety. All agencies should have the same rules and guidelines. When staff can change any structure, rule, or guideline at a moment’s notice, it is upsetting and unfair.

Another change I would make is to put youth’s allowance in a separate check and make sure everyone gets theirs. Money should be given every season to buy seasonal clothing. I also think phones should be allowed in RTCs that are non-secure since they are allowed in group homes and some RTCs in New York. All placements—foster homes, RTCs, or group homes—should have the same rules and policies.

Emanuel P., 17
Syosset, NY

Honorable Mentions: Yuan Chen, Lathika Devanand, Samantha MacDormott, Yi-wen Mueller.

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