When you talk to kids who once lived in foster care, you’ll hear a common theme: they felt invisible. They felt less than. They felt they didn’t have voices, because speaking out could mean retaliation, abuse or being called a liar.
This isn’t perception — it’s reality. Far too many kids are treated like ghosts. I know this because I was one of them. My mother was taken from this world when I was young, and my father spent most of my childhood in prison. I was cycled through several group homes, foster homes and, eventually, the juvenile justice system.
Not every foster home was bad. But a majority were. Some families wanted me only for the paycheck, rather than to love, teach, groom and protect me. Others let their children make fun of me and barred me from being in the same room as them. It made me feel as though the adults in my life simply couldn’t see me.
That’s why I joined Children’s Rights’ Fostering the Future campaign, and why I’m urging all of you to support this blog-a-day initiative. May is National Foster Care Month, and there is one simple thing each of us can do to fight for reform: make sure the voices of foster youth are heard. Why? Here is what several of this year’s bloggers have to say:
- DaShun’s aunt “was the most beautiful person in front of caseworkers, but was the complete opposite when they were not around … She forced me to eat off of the ground and sleep on the floor. She kicked me out several times … I slept wherever I could find shelter.”
- Michael writes, “Our new foster mom was a librarian by day, a verbally abusive alcoholic at night … I spoke up about my discomfort to my social worker. An ‘investigation’ ensued and somehow the culprit turned out to be me. I was called a liar and was sent back to live in her home.”
- Shandreka remembers, “When my social worker visited frequently, my new parents tended to my infected and malnourished body. However, once my social worker lost interest, so did they.”
- And Sixto writes, “I was screamed at, beaten with a belt, and with fists. I have been choked, slapped and starved.”
Children in foster care endure more than we can imagine. It can be even worse than our writers describe. Foster youth are often targets for sex traffickers. According to one study, 60 percent of the child sex trafficking victims recovered as part of an FBI raid were from foster care or group homes.
We cannot sit idly by while this is happening. So please educate yourself. Read all of this month’s first-hand accounts at www.fosteringthefuture.com. “Like” Children’s Rights on Facebook. And share these stories to amplify the voices of those who have experienced foster care. It is up to us to make sure they’re not invisible.
Marvin Bing is Special Assistant to the Executive Director for Strategic Partnerships at Amnesty International USA