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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Helping Me With Control
Lance Hill
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Moving house to house isn’t fun or easy. When I moved into Ms. Holly’s house I was 12 and had been in care since I was 6. I didn’t know why my six siblings and I went into foster care. Someone from Child Protective Services (CPS) told me later that the refrigerator was empty and that my parents didn’t take their medications. I don’t know what they took medication for. They also said my parents didn’t follow “CPS protocols,” and I don’t know what that means.

I had lived in three foster homes, away from my siblings, before I moved in with Ms. Holly. My social worker took me to a tall building on the Lower East Side. Ms. Holly’s apartment was big inside, and she and her daughters Star and Tyesha welcomed me. There was another foster son too, Elijah, who wouldn’t talk to me or shake my hand.

I grew to trust Ms. Holly because she would tell me where she was going when she left the house. Previous foster parents, and my mom, would leave without saying anything. She bought me nice clothes and sneakers when I behaved. She was like the mom I never had. Star and Tyesha were nice, too, and Holly’s sister Dawn came over every Sunday and encouraged me to do my work and behave in school.

I started to do better in school, and Ms. Holly noticed. “Keep it up,” she said. After about a month, I started to hope she would adopt me. I didn’t tell anyone this, because it would be embarrassing. After I’d lived there about a year, she said that if I kept doing well, she would adopt me. I was excited, and my parents had no problem with it.

I was still in touch with my parents on the phone and on Facebook. I’d visit them at their home with a social worker for a few hours at a time, and it made me happy to be with my family, even though I liked living at Ms. Holly’s.

Ms. Holly didn’t mind me talking with my parents as long as I told her. She’d ask me how I felt after visits to their house—usually fine—and that felt good. It felt safe that she wanted to know what I was up to. I liked visiting my parents, but I wanted to live with Ms. Holly because it was quiet at her house.

After I’d been living with Ms. Holly about two and a half years, CPS terminated my mom and dad’s parental rights because they weren’t doing what CPS told them to do. That meant no visits at all. This made me sad because I wanted to keep visiting my parents.

Uncontrollable Rage

Ms. Holly said, “Cry on my shoulder if you need to.” But even though Ms. Holly was being so nice, I still felt rage that my parents were gone. I was angry at my workers because I thought they could do something about it, but they weren’t.

It didn’t make sense, but I was angry at myself. When I was little, my dad would beat me if I messed up in school, and I thought that was my fault. And now I thought it was somehow my fault that my parents weren’t my parents anymore.

I fought a lot with Elijah, and one time, I stepped hard on his foot and broke it. He needed a cast. They said I was out of control, and they were right. I was hospitalized for 21 days.

In the hospital, they thought I had Tourette’s because I made noises, but I don’t. I already knew I had autism and ADHD and PTSD, but this was the first time I felt like I couldn’t control myself. They put me on Risperdal, Concerta, and some other meds. Before I took the meds, I felt like a hyper rocket ship that never came down from space, like I was in my own world. I had never felt like this before. And I still felt that way on the medications; they did not calm me down.

I fought other kids in the 21-day program a lot. I even fought a girl, which I regret. One staff named Mr. Morrison put me down a lot. When I was upset, he yelled, “Sit your ass down!” and I would charge at him and he would slam me down on the ground. Then staff would take me to my hospital bedroom.

The hospital had two staff I liked—Mr. T. and Ms. Duncan. Talking to them helped me calm down. One day, Mr. Morrison said something rude and disrespectful, and instead of charging at him, I went to Ms. Duncan to talk about what he said to me.
She said, “Don’t mind him; he’s a fool.”

Calm Did Not Last

That made me feel a lot better than before. Ms. Duncan was a chill person, and she helped teach me to walk away instead of fighting.

Talking to Ms. Duncan and Mr. T. and exercising in the gym helped me get under control. But being calm never lasted longer than a month. As soon as I got back to Ms. Holly’s house, I was back to being rude, cursing out Star and Tyesha, and not following the rules.

I felt bad, like I was taking advantage of a real mother who helped me when I was down. I would move from anger to feeling guilty and it took a long time to figure out that feeling—the guilt felt like being nervous.

image by YC-Art Dept

Ms. Holly’s kids started to ask me, “Why do you bother to stay here?” I would rudely answer, “I don’t know.” But I did know. I stayed with Ms. Holly because I liked her parenting skills and I did not want to leave her home. I just couldn’t control my anger; I didn’t even know what it was about.

Right when I left the hospital I started therapy sessions in Harlem, but that therapist quit. Then I changed over to Ms. Wells. She was easy to talk to because we went through many of the same things. She had been in foster care too.

My first two months with Ms. Wells, I was starting to get better, but I still raged sometimes. Kids at school said, “Your parents put you in foster care,” and I would get so angry that I would charge or punch the person. I got suspended twice from school.

Ms. Holly got tired of my behavior and I got tired of her being angry at me all the time, and now we were both angry. One day in September, Ms. Holly said that she was tired of me leaving the house without asking, fighting with Elijah, getting suspended from school, and failing my classes.

“Why don’t you call the agency?” I said, raged up. I didn’t think she really would.

“If I call the agency, then you’ll have to leave,” she said. “Is that what you want?”

Self-Awareness

“Yes, I do want that,” I said. But really, I had conflicted emotions. I felt I deserved to be kicked out because I was not doing right by Ms. Holly’s rules, but part of me wanted to say I was sorry and didn’t want to leave. I was angry and shocked that she would call the agency. But I didn’t say any of that because I didn’t think it would come out the right way.

Ms. Holly put in the 30-day notice to the agency. In October, I moved in with Holly’s sister Dawn and her husband Eddie, who live in the same building. I called Dawn my aunt, and she helped me with my homework. Dawn told me to respect her “nieces, daughters, and sisters because we want a good relationship.” I said OK.

I kept going to see my therapist, Ms. Wells. We didn’t dig into why I was angry; we just tried to come up with coping strategies to help me calm down. The best ones for me turned out to be meditation, push-ups, breathing, and writing.

Ms. Wells said that we need to work on self-awareness of when I’m about to get angry and how to control my behavior. We also worked on social cues like not getting into it with an adult who was being inappropriate, and not interrupting while somebody is talking to someone else. And I agreed to work on those things because I need help in both of those areas.

That Ms. Wells had been in foster care made it easier to talk about losing my parents. I realized that my parents didn’t feed me and they abused each other in front of me and that they abused me. CPS told them what they had to do for me to stay at home, and they didn’t do it.

Then I would cry in front her, and I did not like how it felt. I felt upset with my parents for not trying hard enough to keep me with them. But after the therapy sessions, I felt calmer. Growing up, I believed it was my fault they lost their rights, and therapy helped me understand that my parents messed up and I didn’t. And that also helped me realize that I need to focus on the future, not the past. That helped me feel calm too.

More Conscious

My foster father Eddie has also helped me control my anger better. He told me he used to have anger issues like I do and that he used to hurt people physically and with words. But then he met Dawn. They attended a foster parent program called Trauma Smart that focuses on helping younger children with their emotions; he said it helped them as a couple and as foster parents.

When I get mad, Eddie asks me what’s wrong and then walks me through the steps of what I did and talks about other ways to handle the problem. He plays games with me. He pays attention to what I do in school and out of school, including my grades. He’s calm and fair. He punishes me if I mess up by taking away the game systems. Dawn explains why she doesn’t want me to do certain things, and that helps me figure out what’s wrong.

Overall, the house is calm and cool, a place where people can do their homework or get their mind right. Plus there are cameras all over the house, so I know I can’t get away with any bad stuff.

Dawn knew I still cared about Ms. Holly and her daughters, so she told me, “Apologize to them before it’s too late.” I knew cursing out Ms. Holly and her daughters was wrong. Recently, I saw Tyesha and said, “I’m sorry that I did not listen to you, but now I’m trying to fix myself.” I told her about my coping skills of writing, meditating, breathing, running, shadowboxing, reading, and thinking before I act. If I feel myself getting angry, I’ll do one of those things. I explained that to Tyesha and asked, “Can you accept my apology?”

She did, and now we talk every day. I go downstairs every weekend to visit Ms. Holly and talk. We parted ways before things got out of hand. We still have a good relationship with each other, and we still are family. If we had not parted ways, it would not be calm and collected in the family.

Now when I’m upset and feel like yelling or hitting someone, I think about what I have to lose. I have a nice family, and I got a second chance by moving in with Dawn and still getting to be near Ms. Holly’s family. Recently, I felt like fighting Elijah again, but instead I sat on my bed and listened to calm music and closed my eyes and meditated. I give credit to my therapist Ms. Wells and to my coping skills. My foster parents Eddie and Dawn also helped me control my anger by getting me to sit down and think things out before I do stuff. I like this feeling of self-control because I’m more conscious and make better decisions.

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