“You’re lucky we adopted you,” were the words 17 year old Maria Clark heard far too often to ever find solace within the four walls of her adoptive home. Placed into the system at age 9, Maria experienced abuse, neglect, and homelessness all before reaching legal age. Unfortunately, she is only one of many failed by the foster care system.
As of 2019, an estimated .17% of the population was homeless and a subsection portioned at 40% contained individuals under the age of 18. This staggering number of homeless children within the United States was, and still is, the culmination of an ultimately harmful system originally intended for their protection.
According to Foster America, 1 in 17 children enter the foster care system. The act of entering the system alone is enough to cause major life alterations, but the failures of the system lead into a ripple of detriment. The need for foster care exists, but the need for its improvement is dire. Not only are children essentially neglected, but the resources provided in terms of education and future planning are limited to none.
Maria lived with her mother up until the age of 9, when CPS was called to investigate her home and eventually terminate her mother’s parental rights. The night prior, her mother had come home “a different type of high,” according to Maria, and proceeded to beat her to the point of bruising. Although a hot summer temperature lingered through the autumnal months in Georgia, young Maria was forced to go to school with clothing that would cover her injury. Consequently, she overheated while playing at recess and fainted. When she finally woke up the nurse stood over her; her bruising was exposed.
Maria’s story, while unique to her, has many variations within the community of foster children. With a 1 in 8 chance that any given child in the system has experienced abuse, it is clear that youth face a common need: a place of sanctuary.
Even when abuse is not a part of a child’s life, some may find themselves rehomed by the state. What has been uncovered is that many children from low income minority households are essentially stolen from their homes. Where they could have continued life with stability and familiarity, now they are stripped of everything they know and are left traumatized in the process.
Even with regards to the “better” group home/ foster care experiences- like Maria described hers to be, there is no perfect imitation of a home. “Something that I love remembering from the group home was the amount of volunteers that came and the consistent ones,” Maria explained.
While she cherished the social workers who she formed bonds with, they did ultimately rotate shifts. None were in the children's lives enough that they could provide that necessary stability. Maria recalled the structure of her group home. Their lives were scheduled and tasks were carried out accordingly. While school attendance was a fragment of said schedule set in place for her and the many sibling groups she resided with, no one was really there to hold their hands along the way. As daunting as school may be to a young child, Maria had no choice but to conquer it on her own.
The system is not warm. Group homes lack love. In Maria’s case, even her adoptive parents could not provide her with the encouragement that would help her prosper in school. Such an environment where family and compassion are foreign ultimately changes the way in which school is approached or viewed by a child.
Brent Kent, a Public Policy Manager who has aided in the transition into adulthood for Indiana’s foster kids, claimed that “we are sending more foster kids to prison than to college.”
In an investigation carried out by The Star, 1 in 4 of 60,000 prison inmates claimed they had been in one system prior to the other. With a correlation so high, Kent asked: “What do we lose as a result?” His answer? “Generations of young people.”
Even if not reaching the extremity of a prison sentence, children moving around from home to home are likely to experience biological differences in their brain developments. Bullying, school issues, disrespecting teachers, vandalism and delinquency are often in the cards for children of the system. Post secondary schooling is often not. Employment also comes more scarcely.
The instability that Maria attributed to many of her troubles implies a much deeper struggle experienced by her and others like her. When moved so many times, PTSD becomes even more of a possibility for foster youth than war veterans.
Between the lack of resources and common development of mental illnesses, success in adulthood is not a given for children of the system. The system is bleeding, and it requires more than a bandaid to pacify.
Concluding the interview, Maria wanted to shed some insight into the impact of simple words. She encouraged people to speak to one another about the broken system and its sins against children. “You never know who might be listening,” Maria said.
A link to a GoFundMe started by Maria can be found here. She has decided to direct the proceeds towards Paper Bridges.