One teen’s experience as a child in foster care pivots at a serendipitous encounter with a person who was willing to listen and take a chance. Such recognition changed the trajectory of the teen’s life. Where she once felt hopeless, she now feels grateful. This will be her first Thanksgiving holiday with her new family. Her story is the latest in our Voices of Adoption series…
From Group Home to Family: A Grateful Teenager Shares Her Story
As told to writer Mary Klest
I am grateful to be alive. To be a part of my family. I am thankful for the people I have met at Let It Be Us who want to help kids in foster care. My dream is to go to college and become a social worker so I can help protect kids like me.
When I was a young child, I had no world outside of my birth mother. Yet I remember wanting to escape from her. She wasn’t well. Her physical and emotional abuse was relentless. One day she dropped me off at a street corner and never returned to pick me up. I was eleven years old. After that I lived in multiple states on the street, in shelters and group homes. My experience was one of people being mean to each other and staff that didn’t care.
The longest I stayed in a group home was 15 months. I was a runner, someone who ran away a lot. I felt unwelcomed and unwanted wherever I went. I didn’t have a go-to person I could rely on until I met my now sister. She was working as an intern at a healing facility where I had been placed when I was fourteen years old.
At the time, I had thoughts of hurting myself. Staff members would accuse me of lying when I wasn’t lying. There were lots of let downs, mistrust and bad intentions at that facility. It felt like a jail. We had to raise our hand to talk with someone. My schooling was online and inadequate.
I pleaded with all the staff members to take me home with them. I told them I would do everything around the house, all the chores, cook, clean, babysit whatever needed being done. Everyone said no, but I didn’t stop asking. The facility was isolated, miles from anything. The young intern took me outside to do things. She was kind and compassionate. I opened up to her. She was a good listener. I asked her to take me home with her. She laughed and said, “I don’t think I can do that.”
But she tried and finally succeeded in having her dad become my legal guardian. She’s now my sister and he’s my dad! When I first visited the home where she lived with her father and brother I wanted to stay. When I was almost 16, after several visits, we went to court and they became my legal family, releasing me from the group homes. At first, it was scary. I was not used to having any control over my life. It was a culture shock. I had my own room. I have a sense of belonging not just to a family but to a community. I feel loved and am no longer alone.
All the stuff that happened to me before doesn’t define my life or my fate. I think I bring some humor to my family and I like being the youngest, the baby of the family. I am expected to learn something at school. I do and am enjoying it.
I think of the teens left behind in the group homes. I feel bad for them. What will their lives be? They won’t have independent living skills, no support, no one to call when they get out. It’s not their fault. It’s sad because it’s so important to have a family. I wish people would know the truth. There are stigmas and myths to be squashed. I wish people would step outside of their box to help a kid reach their dreams. To see their worth and potential. Before I became a part of a family, I didn’t have any dreams about the future because I didn’t think I would have one.
I decided to volunteer with Let It Be Us to help the people who help kids find families. Potential parents have questions about adopting teenagers and I have knowledge about that. I represent the teenagers who deserve a family. We are just as important as babies.
It won’t always be peaches and cream with a teenager. We’re all human. Some of us have been through hell, yet we still have a lot to offer. Imagine what a parent can teach them. Being loved requires patience and compassion on both sides.
I never got to play in a playground. I never went trick or treating on Halloween or attended a family gathering during the holidays. But this year will be my first Thanksgiving out of placement and inside a real family home. I am grateful for my family. When I asked my sister to take me home with her, she did.
Adopting or becoming the legal guardian of a teenager builds a foundation for them to live a caring and productive life. If you or someone you know is curious about how to get licensed as a foster parent in Illinois, please visit LetitBeUs.org or call 847-764-LIBU to connect with one of their foster and adoptive parent coaches.