Thursday, February 1, 2007

Youth Need Families

by Mary Lee, former foster youth, Tennessee

At 12, I entered foster care due to abuse and neglect. My foster family was fine, but it wasn’t like having a real family. My foster parents treated their own children different than me. I wasn’t allowed to date. I wasn’t allowed to sleep at a friend’s house. I knew as soon as I turned 18 that I would be on my own.

Unfortunately, I was in care for more than four years before anyone in authority asked me what I wanted. Every six months I appeared before a judge whose questions to her focused on school and her placement. It wasn’t until I was 16 that the judge asked me what I wanted in life. I told him, “I want what everyone wants—I want a family of my own.” The judge turned to my caseworker and said, “Let’s find Mary a family.”

In spite of the judge’s words, the road wasn’t easy. Many people were discouraging. They were like, "You’re 16. You’re going to go off to college in a couple of years, why do you want a family?” They didn't understand it was about my entire life, it’s not just about my childhood. I want to know that I’m going to have a place to come home to during Christmas breaks. I want to know that I’m going to have a dad to walk me down the aisle. That I’m going to have grandparents for my children.

Luckily, a former caseworker and his wife stepped forward to adopt me. I was totally overwhelmed. I had this strong desire to have a family, so I was really excited that I was going to be a part of the family. As soon as I moved in, I really felt a part of their family, I felt included. And even now, looking back, it’s like I had been with them my whole life. The adoption was finalized a week before my 18th birthday. They waited too long. To spend four and half years in foster care—it’s a waste of my childhood that I’ll never get back.

If you have a caring family who loves you and supports you, then you can do whatever you want to do. You can be a successful adult. I don’t think you’re ever too old. Even today, I still call my mom and dad for advice, for money, just to have someone to talk to.

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