When foster families show a commitment to their foster children, it can greatly impact children’s well-being and health – and especially their futures. One teenage girl, Kallie, has shared about her journey through foster care, through being in homes where she felt unconnected to being provided with a home where she feels comfortable and secure.
When Kallie first entered foster care, she was understandably sad about not being able to see her mother, but she also felt a sense of relief about being in a better environment where she did not have to worry about moving or being homeless. She has been placed into foster care twice, and she has been in several different placements. These experiences have made her crave stability and connection, so she says it was like a dream to be placed into her current home because she finally feels safe.
Of course, Kallie still misses her biological family, but through her current placement, she has gained more individuals whom she can call family. She considers them mom, dad, and siblings and has a whole group of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. She expresses being satisfied with the way her situation has turned out as she has many people who care for her. When comparing herself to other children who are not in foster care, Kallie remarks that she is a happy person with a happy life, and “Everyone goes through crap, but mine was a different kind of crap.” She has had to learn to overcome and manage what she has experienced and find ways to focus on the positives and her strengths.
Being in the Independent Living Program, Kallie has been able to attend classes with other teenage foster children. She has received the educational aspect of this program through learning life skills and becoming prepared for adulthood, and she has also been able to have the comradery in getting to interact with other children who understand what she has been through. She states this has helped her feel as if she is not alone, and this has been beneficial in her healing process.
Kallie has made friends at the various schools she has attended. She has found socialization a challenge while being in foster care as she struggles with some of the rules, such as not being able to ride in a car while a friend is driving. It’s been “a lot of hassle,” she says, referring to activities like going on spring break or leaving town. She wants to connect with her friends, but COVID-19 and foster care have created a barrier in her doing so. Kallie has overcome these obstacles by focusing on sports and her job. She has the support of not only her foster family, but also her counselor and SCJFS caseworker. She has become close to her counselor who she says is focused on her and what is going on in her life. In fact, she has become so comfortable with her counselor that she has brought her sketchbook to sessions to share her art. Kallie reports her caseworker is knowledgeable about her job, and she always knows where and how to connect Kallie to have her needs met.
Kallie has now been given the tools to succeed – love, commitment, care, and the promise of a family and a home. Research shows that young adults who experience foster care have worse outcomes than their peers in the general population across a variety of spectrums — from education to employment to housing to early parenthood. Before being in her current home, Kallie did not talk about going to college, and she did not discuss her future. She speaks about how her goals and dreams were always picked apart and criticized in the past, but now, her dreams and goals are supported and encouraged. The foster family has welcomed Kallie to live with them while she is attending college. She states she now does not have to worry about surviving after graduating, she can go to college and be a normal 18-year-old with a strong foundation to fall back on.
The family has expressed an interest in adopting Kallie, but due to her previous experiences, Kallie does not wish to be adopted and is choosing to emancipate after she graduates this spring. The family is changing their home to be a long-term home for Kallie, and this is not the norm for children who choose emancipation. Kallie believes this is because her foster family wants her to do well. They have helped her improve her grades. Subjects that used to be a struggle for her, like math, are now easier. When before she was nervous meeting new people, she is now more relaxed. She has improved her decision-making skills. Her whole life, she has had thoughts and ideas, but previously, she was indecisive and found commitment challenging. Kallie is presently more confident than ever and is now able to plan for her future. She has always this potential within her, but she has been able to reach it through having a foster family who advocates for her.
Her foster parents are described by Kallie as easy going. She states that as a family, they discuss everything – their feelings and opinions. In her current home, her foster parents give every family member the time to share and work through their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. With this family, she can be herself as they accept her for her. Kallie feels the best foster parents are those who are transparent. The best foster families are those who give the foster child a bit of power and control in a situation where they often feel powerless. In Kallie’s eye, the traits that are essential for foster parents are kindness, honesty, and love. She states it just take a good person.
Through her foster care experiences, Kallie shares some advice for foster parents. Foster families need to be understanding that foster children have been through trauma, and they need time to learn how they think and feel, as well as time to learn about the people they are placed with. She says a friendship must be built and mutual respect must be created before there are expectations put upon the child. Foster children are not going to open up right away; they need to be able to trust their foster parents first. Kallie feels foster children need foster parents who focus on them and what they want and need as people. Foster parents need to love foster children for who they are.
Of her foster family, Kallie says, “They encourage me to be my best self and do what I love.” Being extremely artistic, Kallie loves drawing, painting, reading, coloring, sewing, and 3D printing. She has a deep admiration for music and one of her favorite sayings is, “High praise to music; music is my life.” Kallie knows her family loves her, and receiving love with no expiration date has allowed Kallie to grow and flourish. Next year, she plans to attend The University of Akron to study archaeology and anthropology, and her dream job is to be an Egyptologist. Her foster family has made it easier for her to follow her dreams, she says, because they support her in all she does.