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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A World of Other People’s Rules
It’s hard to keep my cool when I think the rules are dumb
Joy Hollins

I went into care when I was 8. The way foster care was explained to me was, “These people are going to take you into their house until your mother does what she has to do to get you back.” My mother had to play by the foster care rules and prove that she was responsible enough to get her children back. She told me it would take time.

There weren’t many rules in my mom’s house. I got hit, but only when I was bad—rude or disrespectful at home or school. My mother and my grandmother, who I lived with briefly, were always respectful and caring to me. They never treated me differently than my brothers and sisters.

But in foster care, I entered a world of other people’s rules, and there were different rules in every home. A lot of them didn’t make sense. Some dumb rules from various foster homes were: no chewing gum in the house; take your shoes off in the house; no whistling in the house. I always find it hard to adjust to all these new rules, and I wish foster parents would be more patient.

If I think something’s dumb or unfair, my first urge is to say so. I’ll just keep talking until it seems like they’ve heard me. This has happened in all the foster houses I’ve lived in. When people ignore me, I want to get under their skin.

And I guess I’m good at it. In most of the homes I’ve lived in, the foster parents called the agency and said, “I don’t want this girl.” In almost six years, I’ve been in 16 homes. The more houses you move to, the more people get a bad vibe. They start to ask, “Why has she been in so many foster houses?” Then, many of them don’t want you in their home.

In Trouble at School

I’d also be sassy with my teachers, especially when they weren’t listening to me. I talked a lot in class to my friends, and when the teacher scolded me, I was rude. At the end of 7th grade I was placed in special education because of my behavior, but that made it worse—everybody else was talking back, too. This conversation from 8th grade is typical:

My teacher said, “Joy, please stop talking.”

“OK, whatever,” I responded.

“Excuse me?!”

“You heard me; you’re not deaf.”

“Joy, I’m going to call your house.”

image by Froylan Garcia

“I don’t care. My foster mother can’t do anything.”

I knew I was angry, though I wasn’t sure exactly what about. I’d just speak and rude things would come out. I’m not angry at my mom, but I am angry that I don’t get what I want. I used to see my dad and I got whatever I wanted from him, and now I don’t see him anymore, so maybe I’m angry about that.

I got some help figuring out my anger when I started seeing a therapist. I didn’t want to go, but it turned out to be fun. It’s like going to a friend’s house. She treats me fairly and doesn’t judge anything I say or do. She has helped a lot.

Reason to Change

I recently had to leave a home I’d lived in for about eight months. It was one of the best homes I’d been in. My biological sister lived there, and the foster mother told me that I was a part of the family. She bought me what I wanted and needed and she made me feel happy. I loved her, and it was good to be back with my sister.

I wasn’t rude to my foster mother, but I was still rude to my teachers, and my foster mother had warned me that if I kept getting in trouble in school, I’d have to move.

I didn’t want to move, so I really did try to be good and quiet in class. But it was hard in the special education class. There were a lot of disruptions, and I just joined in. When kids would bring me into the conversation, it was hard not to talk.

One day my foster mother sat me down and said, “Joy, your teacher called.”

“I know.” I felt very nervous and scared.

“Well, Joy, I need a break. Your teacher is calling every day and it’s getting annoying. I thought you were going to try.”

“I am trying.”

“Well, not hard enough. Go upstairs and pack your stuff. Your social worker will be coming Thursday to pick you up.”

image by Froylan Garcia

And so I moved into my 16th foster home. This was a turning point in my life. I’d been in a good house that felt more like family than any other foster home had. And because of my behavior, I got kicked out. I was tired of going downhill in every situation. I missed my last foster family, and I felt depressed.

I’m smarter than people think. I understand that in order to stay in someone’s house, I have to follow their rules and be respectful. But I think that my foster parents should have been more patient with me. I’m a teenager—we go through drama and attitude changes. That shouldn’t be enough to get you kicked out of a home. Foster parents feel that since I’m not their child, they don’t have to put up with my behavior. They can just send me to another home.

A Calm Voice Works

So I tried hard to change. I changed my attitude and how I behaved in school. After I moved from that last foster home, I realized that it had been the closest thing to a real home I’d had in care. I didn’t want to lose that again.

I realized that talking to people calmly and respectfully made them talk to you that way. Recently I got what I wanted at school by being calmer. I was getting evaluated to be put in a stricter setting because of my misbehavior. I said in a nice, respectful way that I didn’t think I belonged in special ed. The evaluator said that I had an 85 average and agreed to move me back to regular classes.

I also used reasonableness to get off this medication called Tenex that was supposed to chill me out. I was getting evaluated for another prescription and I told the doctor how I felt—which was that I didn’t think I belonged on the medication because it didn’t help me. The doctor agreed to take me off it.

My therapist helps me the most. We talk about everything and she understands where I’m coming from. She helped me realize that I’m angry that I’m in foster care and embarrassed about it. She’s helped me overcome that embarrassment. I realized that I wasn’t the only kid in foster care and that there are smarter ways to get what I want than acting out.

She gives me advice that’s helped me make my situation better. For example, she told me to write down all the things I would like to express to foster parents instead of just yelling and cursing at them. Other methods she’s taught me for handling anger are to relax and count to 10, to make a silly face in the mirror, or to make a phone call.

How It Is

My mom is still fighting to get me and my siblings back, but after almost six years, foster care doesn’t feel temporary any more. I miss my last family, but I like where I am now. I’ve experienced a lot of new things with them, like the traditional Italian way of celebrating Christmas. I’m already attached to my new foster parents and I feel comfortable in their house. I want to stay there.

It’s still hard for me when I don’t agree with the rules. My current foster parents think my texting when I’m with them is really rude. So they told me, “No texting after 11 and no texting in the living room.” I got upset because those rules feel really unfair.

One day my foster father and I got into a big argument—he wanted to take my phone away from me because I was texting in the living room. I didn’t want to give him my phone because I was talking to my friends. But I realized even though I thought that rule was stupid, I still had to follow it.

It’s always a struggle following rules that I don’t think are fair. But I’m trying to stay on track and do what I have to do to stay in a foster home.

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