Growing Up in the Foster Care System: Kristina’s Story

girls riding bikesSometimes the most sophisticated professionals can’t come close to articulating things as powerfully as youth who have grown up in the foster care system. The piece below, by 21 year old Kristina, is a perfect example.

On the Importance of Siblings, Foster Parents and Social Workers, by Kristina

I was only 10 when I was taken away from my mother. Before that, we had had years of DCF supervision—social workers, rehab programs, family plans. But my mother couldn’t keep to any of them—her alcoholism was just too strong. In a way, I knew it. My mother, as great as she was when she was sober, just couldn’t take care of her children. In another way, though, I didn’t understand at all. My mother was my family—the only one I’d ever known.

I have a little brother and sister—twins, Julio and Kayla. At the time, they were 9, and even though they were just a little younger than me, I had always looked out for them. After all, my mom wasn’t doing it. I’d do the kids’ laundry, scrounge something for dinner, make sure they had their books for school. But now, we were going to be separated—DCF couldn’t find a foster family that could take all three of us. So I went to live in Beverly (MA), Julio in Salem, and Kayla in Andover. For all of us even to see each other, three families had to coordinate their schedules, and find someone to drive…it didn’t happen often. I felt I’d lost everything.

The next few years were a blur of difficult situations with different families. I would be placed somewhere, things would start off well, then I would act up. I’d yell and scream, tell the family I hated them. I was angry, I was hurt…I was heartbroken. And I was only a kid. So, I took it out on those around me, and they—well, they did the best they could with a girl they just couldn’t understand. But none of the placements lasted long.

Then one day, DCF assigned me a new social worker. MaryLuz Arling called me and took me out to a café. We had a long talk. She wanted to learn all about me: my likes and dislikes, my sports and hobbies. She asked me about my hopes and dreams for the future, and wanted to know how I was getting along with my current foster family. What were the good things there, what were the points of conflict? She seemed genuinely interested.

I talked about my birth family, especially about Julio and Kayla. It was the first time anyone had ever actually asked me what I wanted—I couldn’t believe it. MaryLuz told me that she was going to find me a new placement, one that was going to last. To make sure that it did, she had to know who I was, and what would make me happy.

Within the next few months, after going through MaryLuz’s standard process of gradually introducing prospective families, I moved into a new home. It was a completely different experience from start to finish. I bonded right away with my foster brothers and sisters, and the family provided a kind of stability and support I had really never experienced. It wasn’t perfect— my foster mother and I had weirdly similar personalities, and because of that, we sometimes fought—but it was a home where I felt cared for and—finally—understood.

MaryLuz also found homes for Julio and Kayla. They were doing really well in them—especially Kayla. In fact, it wasn’t long before she realized she’d found her forever family with her foster parents, Patty and Tom. Now, the three of us kids were seeing each other more often, and I started to get to know Patty and Tom. They let Julio and me know that their doors were open to both of us, and that Kayla’s family was theirs as well.

When I was 18, I left my foster family to try independent living for a while. But before long, I decided to accept Patty and Tom’s offer to move in with them. I’m 21 now.  I’ve graduated from high school and I have a good job that I enjoy. I could never have gotten this far without the support of my foster families. But the person who really got me onto my new and better path was MaryLuz. Without her, I don’t know where I would be.