News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Growing Up in the Care of Strangers

 

Related Reading

Flux: Life After Foster Care

By Leigh Ecke, Misty Stenslie et al.; published by Foster Care Alumni of America, 2009, 103 pages

There are nearly 200,000 youth 13 years of age and older in the foster care system, and more than 25,000 young people age out of care each year without having a forever family of their own. To help these youth, Foster Care Alumni of America released FLUX: Life After Foster Care, a book in which more than 100 foster care alumni guide youth through the emotional journey to adulthood. It explores transitional issues such as finding and developing the youth’s unique identity, creating support systems, dealing with biological families, developing close bonds with others and addressing parenting issues. Instead of advocating one right way to do things, each chapter shares the experiences of adults who have been there. The authors encourage the next generation of young people facing transition to examine the issues and develop a personal means of finding their way in the world.

Flux

Book Club

Growing Up in the Care of Strangers: The Experiences, Insights and Recommendation of Eleven Former Foster Kids

By Waln K. Brown and John R. Seita; published by the William Gladden Foundation Press, 2009, 192 pages

Book review by
Patricia Wagner
State CASA Director
Michigan CASA Association—Children’s Charter of the Courts

The cover of this book sends you its first message about our foster care system: a beat-up cardboard box, a garbage bag tied up with a rope, a well loved teddy bear sitting on a tattered welcome mat and the shadow of a child in the background. These have become symbols of children in foster care.

Growing Up in the Care of Strangers is written by 11 adults who share their life experiences of going from abusive homes to foster care to ultimately becoming the successful professionals they are today. All of the writers share the painful memories of the abuse and neglect they endured.

Angelique Day starts her chapter, “Like so many American kids reared by abusive and neglectful parents, I did not know the simple joys of childhood, nor was I permitted the normalcy of a stable family life. By my ninth birthday, I had heard about the ‘Great American Dream,’ and although I wanted to believe in it—desperately—it was nothing more than a little girl’s wistful fantasy. In my world, nightmares dominated dreams, and fantasies existed only briefly, extinguished by the daily horrors of cruel reality.”

Each author speaks candidly about the foster care system that became their “legal” parent. While they share their knowledge of the system from a child’s eye view, they also give us their adult perspective. Three messages echoed through each chapter. The first was that no one listened to them—whether it was reporting the abuse, pointing out problems in their foster homes or saying what they wanted or needed. What’s more, no one asked!

Rosalind Folman expressed the second message best. “Foremost, the foster care experience undermines children’s sense of belonging. Belonging is a basic human need that when unmet prevents children from achieving a sense of self-worth…. The repeated disruptions in all their social networks, losing family, friends, classmates and community, lead children to feel as if they belong nowhere.”

The third message clearly articulated youths’ concerns leaving the foster care system with no survival skills. Youth in the child welfare system are well aware of their odds for success once they leave care—but they are rarely provided the necessary tools to make it. These 11 had to find the drive within themselves in order to become the successes they are today.

Maurice Webb concludes his chapter by saying, “Perhaps it is time for the decision-makers to listen to those of us who have survived the system and utilize our input to fix what too long been broken…. By including the voices and insights of survivors…the child welfare system might just advance its mission of helping young people grow past difficult situations by learning from those of us who have surmounted seemingly impossible odds.”

This book is one to be read and taken to heart by all who find themselves in a position to speak for the needs of children in care—whether a CASA volunteer, program staff member, foster care worker, judge or legislator. Our greatest successes will come only when we listen to each child and step up to meet that child’s needs.

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