There was a short time before entering the foster system in Southern Alabama, I lived on Ft. Rucker with a military couple and their infant son. The husband was attending Flight School in 2003, they needed assistance with their son, so I was handed off to help with household needs, cooking dinner, taking care of their son and keeping up with my education at an early age of fifteen. They would often leave me to care for their son so they could go on weekend trips because he was continuously busy, studying for hours or in the field, training for weeks. Caring for their son contrasted a vast amount of responsibility and my mental health state, at that time put me at an all time low.
Starting my first day of middle school, seventh grade, at Tongue River Middle School, in Ranchester Wyoming, somehow in the middle of the school year we ended up moving to Johnsonburg to help with more of their “family.” In the middle of all the transferring between middle schools in seventh and eighth grade, being over medicated on psychotropics (Zoloft) an anti depressant, became the normal “family” setting of their choice, especially coming from a group home setting prior to coming to Alabama. Often times, they would double the doses to make me sleep or almost falling down stair sleepwalking, due to being overmedicated.
Beginning my ninth grade year, in 2003, my first year of high school, at Enterprise Junior High School, some might call “Old Junior.” Feeling socially awkward felt like an understatement, either not having the right clothes, make-up, friends or normal teenager necessities and being the, “new kid”, built up normal daily stressors for me. Usually, my personality was expressed through being shy, quiet and reserved.
Three months into my ninth grade year, at Enterprise Junior High School, in Southern Alabama, I was told by the military couple after we had got one eating our Thanksgiving dinner, my father had passed away from a heart attack, due to an overdose from drugs. Well, Ive already talked about my reaction in previous blogs, it was one of the most drastic scenes of my life I would ever go through. The feeling of a dramatic movie scene, falling to the floor with my heart breaking, my life flashed for approximately thirty seconds of all the memories established through the years. Those thirty seconds was quickly over by being told to do the dishes and clean up Thanksgiving dinner.
Concentrating on my education became a difficult task, not having the adequate study techniques, resources and guidance, put a strain on my thinking process, especially when I needed mental health guidance to help guide me through a roller coaster of emotions. Struggling with depression, grief and PTSD intensified, all through-out getting back on the school bus to go, “home.” Aspiring making an effort with my education, my Term GPA totaled a high B (86.17 average). The course World History was pulling me down to an even 70 grade, for the class. Struggling with test anxiety on every test, comes down to the needs and resources to feel comfortable enough in a school and home setting. They would put me in a room and tell me to read and study. Looking over words, repeating became hesitant of my learning process.
By the end of 2002, I had moved to Ft. Stewart, Georgia from Pennsylvania, with a military couple, who’s parents had no legal documentation, from my legal gurdian in California (who had legal kinship guardianship of me) There was nothing stating: I was to be in their care legally. Leaving Pennsylvania, not even finishing the end of the school year with my class, we leave abruptly to be with the military wife, who was having their son, in Savannah, Georgia. The teachers of Johnsonburg Area High School, agreed with my fake guardians, I was to submit a report on land mark destinations, traveling by vehicle from Pennsylvania to Ft. Stewart, Georgia. Teachers never questioned the difference in names on my birth certificate or the fact of no legal documentation was sustained for to be in their care.
Between being shuffled around, in the illegal “care” of the first individuals, they passed me down to their daughter and son in law to help them with the care of their son for the summer. At that point, it was to my understanding, I had no open line of verbal communication of feeling comfortable enough to share any kind of emotion, only to be strong and focus on the future, meaning the next day. Feeling verbally attacked by their daughter constantly, grades weren’t good enough, socializing with other youth, household chores being done EXACTLY how she gave instructions or even feeling the necessity to buy me a jacket for cold weather.
Cleaning, babysitting and my education became my life, while staying on Ft.Rucker. If something wasn’t done “right” repercussions followed. I understand the need for building good character by doing chores is good for youth, but to the extent of the limitations of mental abuse should not be tolerated in any certain way.
What reprocussions did I receive and why? While staying with the military couple, we lived in a house they rented, near Ft.Stewart, Georgia. One of their “concerns” begins with my weight and eating habits, they quickly assumed of a situation of feeling literally uncomfortable, my stomach ached continuously worried I would get in trouble for the littlest thing. for instance, not doing chores the correct way or getting a below average test and socializing. They often bullied me, telling me I had anorexia because I didn’t eat the portions they were used to eating, simply confusing the fact of my mental health history prior to leaving California, nervousness and anxiety became my normal emotion around them. The process of them making any setting meal, smelling food in certain situations or feeling the uncertainty, triggered my “fight of flight” response, worried how they would react to me hiding food in my napkin because I was full and never felt comfortable. Immediately, anytime this would happen, defensiveness came out to the point of continuous physical and mental abuse, for feeling full.
The feeling of being a constant nuisance to them; for instance, they would take me to the local health food store, only to criticize “how skinny” I looked to them. After being criticized on how I looked and ate, the punishment required: pulling weeds, mowing the grass, cleaning vehicles, edging the grass with scissors, all to procession, also to complete my list on duties for my one consequence, they added a writing assignment of 500 words (written in neat cursive or it would be thrown away to redo all of it), additionally, having to wake up to endure the summer heat to partake in Physical Training with the my, “brother in law,” on Ft.Rucker before the sun came up, running miles on the back roads of Ft.Stewart, the feeling of fogginess and exceptionally humid.
When I left my “home” on Ft.Rucker, Alabama, by running away, being passed down for the fourth time, the individuals that had illegal guardianship of me, facing them again became a constant thought. Receiving a foster home placement would mean, going to court deciding whats in my best interest. My acting attorney and I get to the Juvenile Services Floor of the Dale County Courthouse, they were already sitting waiting to be called to hear my case. The military family wasn’t involved in the court hearing, it was only their parents, the ones who didn’t have legal documentation of me. The feeling of finally breaking free from their care and having to sit down in the tiniest offices, decided my placement. The judge was going to put me back in their care, I quickly came to my own defense, making my voice heard asking her not to be placed back with “those people.” They quickly repeated my words, telling the judge how much they cared for me by “taking me in.” I told her, if I go back in their care, I’ll run away again because of my situation. She listened to my voice and placed me into a Children’s Home in Dothan, AL. The judge asked them if I could have any of my belongings, they stated, “they bought everything, if I don’t want to stay with them, I get nothing.” So, I entered foster care with only my sweatshirt tied around my waist and the money I earned from a yard sale they previously had on Ft. Rucker. DHR was nice enough to let me keep the money I rightfully earned by working for them.
Foster home placements were hard to come by, due to the shortage of foster parents in our state and local community. Fortunately I was able to confide in an acquaintance from my history class at school, her mother was able to give me the necessary guidance, while I was in the Children’s Home in Dothan. I stayed at the home until, DHR could find a foster home placement. A few weeks past, I was not attending school because of the trauma that took place in my case. I was able to go and attend one last day at EHJS, before transferring to Zion Chapel High School in Jack, Alabama, approximately thirty minutes away.
Thank you to all the readers who are interested in my life journey. Sharing situations and events pertaining to foster youth/care awareness, is highly crucial and important for our education system. I feel, some of the strife I went through could have be handled in a more positive manor if educators, including counselors become aware of how to handle and prevent traumatic situations, like mine from happening. Specific training for all educators in foster care awareness would be very mindful and helpful to our community. A foster youths history when entering foster care is one of the most important for Social Workers to hear and let them be heard.
It’s been ten years, since I aged out of the Dale County foster system, in Alabama. Since having my son, I felt it was necessary to talk about the trials, hurdles and hurt I’ve experienced,to help foster youth in our state. Thinking, what if my son was in foster care? How would I want others to treat him, honestly, as a stay at home mother, I expect for him to be treated completely different than I experienced. The Alabama Foster Care System needs to be altered and reform needs to be more persistent for current and former foster youth of Alabama.