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

Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Why Can’t Kinship Care Be More Like a Normal Family?
Jasmon S.

This story originally appeared in L.A. Youth, a magazine based in Los Angeles, California.

I used to find myself at home on a Saturday night. Not because I was lonely, but because I was not allowed to go out much. See, I live with my grandparents but I’m also a ward of the court, meaning the courts have control over where I live.

Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of innocent fun stuff because if the courts didn’t think my grandparents were taking good enough care of me, I could have been taken out of their home. Even though I appreciate everything my grandparents have done for me, I wish I had more freedom.

I was born to a mother who wasn’t ready to care for a child, so my grandparents took me in. They raised me like I was their own child. I even called them Mom and Dad.

Around the time I turned 5, my mother came back to get custody of me, but I didn’t want to go because I was too adjusted to my grandparents. The court gave my mom weekend visitation, so I would spend the weekends at her house. She kept that up off and on for about six years, but it ended when she lost custody of my two younger sisters. They went into foster care. About a year later, my grandparents took my sisters in too.

This was the point in my life when things started to change. I was beginning middle school, where all the fun starts to happen. I started meeting new people and making a lot of friends. I was invited to sleepovers, parties, and to the mall. But I wasn’t allowed to do any of this without parents there. It felt like all my privileges were taken away before I could earn them. Later, I realized that this was because my grandparents were scared that if I got into any trouble, the system would take me away from them.

A Stranger in Our Lives

When you are in foster care, there is always someone watching over you. Every month, a social worker would come over without warning and get me alone to ask me things. I guess the social workers were used to finding abused children who weren’t being taken care of at the other homes they visited, but my grandparents did everything they were supposed to. They made home-cooked meals every night, kept the house spotless and smelling like Pine-Sol, and spent quality time with us.

I didn’t like the social worker visits. Having to give a report on how my grandparents were treating me gave me a horrible feeling inside. I wanted to shut down and not answer the questions, but I couldn’t.

After some visits with the social worker, I asked my grandparents to adopt me. I thought if I was adopted, a social worker wouldn’t have to bother me once a month with the same questions. But my grandparents wanted me to have access to services that are available to foster youth, like medical insurance and money for college. I get sick a lot and I have a lot of allergies, so without insurance my grandparents would have to pay for my expensive medicine.

Many nights when my friends were at the movies, skating, or otherwise out having fun, I’d stay home and play Go Fish with my grandpa. It was a lot harder in high school because the more activities that came up, the more I couldn’t do. Every summer my best friend would take a trip to Yosemite and I wanted to go, but I couldn’t. My friends went to late-night movies, but I couldn’t be out after dark without adults. Most of the time I wouldn’t even ask to go, because I already knew the answer. I would just go out with my friends during the day and see an early movie or have lunch.

image by YC-Art Dept

I slowly came to realize that my grandparents wanted to let me do fun things, but it was also their job to protect me. If I got stopped by the police for the littlest thing, like a curfew violation, it would go into the police computer, and the information would get back to my social worker. Then my grandma and grandpa could get in trouble and I could be removed and put into a foster home.

One of the worst disappointments was when Reyanna, my best friend, turned 16, which is a big deal for us ladies. She was having a birthday party that ended at midnight and after that there was going to be a sleepover. I really wanted to stay over. My grandmother told me she would think about it.

I Missed Out, Again

Reyanna picked me up for the party in the morning and we spent all day setting up and getting dressed. Around the time the party started, I called my grandma to ask if I could spend the night, but she still said, “I’ll think about it.” Around 11 o’clock I called her again and no one answered. I called four more times and there was still no answer. By this time, I was ticked off! I finally called her on her cell phone and she told me she was on her way to get me. I was very upset with her. I got in the car and slammed the door and I sat there quiet the whole ride home. She said, “It’s not my fault” and “I wish the system wasn’t the horrible way it is.”

She said that before I could visit Reyanna’s home overnight, the court requires her parents to go through a background check called Live Scan to make sure they don’t have a criminal record. It was frustrating and felt unfair.

During my junior year my grandparents tried to give me a little more freedom because they knew I was getting older and they wanted me to do more. They started letting me have friends spend the night. Usually it was Reyanna. We’d watch our favorite movie, Riding in Cars With Boys, and eat café latte ice cream. Meanwhile, our friends and boyfriends would be out at the teen clubs.

Now I’m almost 18 and about to graduate. Since I’m about to age out of the foster care system, I’m doing a lot to prepare. [In California, until recently, foster care ended at 18.] I’m working three part-time jobs and going out on the weekends. I go skating with my friend Tatiana every Saturday night. I usually come home around 11 p.m. just to keep my grandparents happy. I know they trust me because they aren’t as tough on me as they used to be. They don’t ask, “Where are you going and who are you going with?” They are not as worried because they know college is something I really want and I wouldn’t jeopardize it by getting in trouble.

Though it was frustrating, I don’t feel this experience has hurt me. It has kept me out of trouble, and now when I get to go out I really appreciate it. I also don’t regret that my grandparents didn’t adopt me, because I’m going to get money for college.

Still, children living with relatives should not have to be treated differently just because the title “foster child” has been placed on them. If the California courts allow a foster child to live with a relative, it means that the relative has been interviewed and is enrolled in parenting classes, and that there is a safe environment for the child to live in. I believe the courts should be less strict because it is important for a child to have more freedom and not be constantly worried they might be taken away. Relatives should have more things left up to their discretion. A phone call from a social worker or a visit every two months instead of every month would be better.

As a foster child growing up in my grandparents’ home, I felt loved even though the rules kept me from having a normal childhood. My grandparents did all they could to make me happy, but it would have been easier if it was just me and them and not me, them, and a social worker.

horizontal rule