A Child of the System

A Child of the System

Most adults can recall their childhood as being a safe haven where they were comforted, loved and well cared for.  That’s not how I remember my childhood.  I was a mere statistic, managed by an insensitive social services system.  I was one of 408,425 children placed in foster care.  I was placed there after both my parents were arrested for various crimes ranging from possession to murder.  When being placed in a foster home you can either go to a relative’s home, which happens about twenty-six percent of the time, or you can be placed in a non-relative’s home, which is what happened to me.

Prior to entering the foster care system, I was raised in an abusive environment, which actually helped me develop the survival skills I would need later in life.  You learn quickly how to be quiet and make yourself invisible.  I remember one particular occasion at the age of six, when I came home from school and found my father in a horrible mood.  You could smell the stale and acrid smoke mingling with the alcohol in the air.  The smell was offensive and it was difficult to breathe, and I held my breath as I entered our apartment and proceeded to my room to hide in the closet.  I stayed there until I heard his heavy footsteps pad into his bedroom and shut the door.   My father did not know I had even come home.

A few months later my father left me with a neighbor and never came back, and at the age of seven, I was placed with my first foster family.  I had already seen and experienced so many things a child my age should not have been exposed to.  I did not understand at the time that once your parents are gone you become a ward of the state.  The state places you with a family they have deemed to have a safe and good environment for children without parents.  The state pays that family money to help subsidize the cost they will incur by taking in a foster child.  That family is supposed to provide food, shelter, as well as clothing.  This does not happen in some cases.

The family I was first placed with had three other foster children who were all older than me.  I was given the hand-me-down clothing regardless of the condition.  Since I was the youngest and smallest I was given food after everyone else got their share.  At this point in my life, I was afraid of all adults, and had no one to trust or to look up to.  After about six months of being quiet and invisible I began to stand up for myself.  I became very argumentative and stubborn.  I retaliated.  Subsequently, this led the foster parents to request me to be placed in another foster home.

The second family reminded me of my parents, and I once again found myself slipping back into the role of being the invisible child.  I remember being scared that the foster dad would come in my room while I was sleeping, so I would sleep on the floor under my bed in the closet.  It didn’t stop him from coming into my room, but it helped me fall asleep.  I reached out to the foster mom, but she did not believe me and asked my social worker to have me removed.

I was eight and a half when I was moved to my third family.  This family was the best, because they were caring and treated me like I thought all the other children’s parents were treating them.  It was like a fairytale.  I had people who cared about me and were very patient with me.  I remember being extremely shy and quiet at first.  They helped bring me out of my shell and gave me the encouragement to reach out for the confidence in myself that I was so severely lacking.  I cried when they told me they were moving out of the state and couldn’t take me with them, because I thought I had done something wrong that had drove them away.  I realized and understood later in life that their leaving was not my fault and had nothing to do with me, but at that time I did not understand or realize that.

Over the next year I went through three more foster families due in part because of my attitude, lack of respect, and selfishness.  During this time my grandmother decided to petition the court for guardianship of me.  I remember being taken to the county courthouse, and going before the judge to be asked where I wanted to go, I replied “with my grandmother.”

I was ten years old when I moved in with her and neither one of us knew what we were getting ourselves into.  We quickly realized the support system we thought was there, did not exist.  Every three to six months a new social worker would stop by.  They would make unannounced visits to see us, and were very unprofessional, as they had not taken the time to look at our case enough to learn our names prior to visiting us.  They would refer to their clipboard which contains all the information about our case.  Eventually they stopped coming.  This was around the time my grandmother got sick.

My grandmother passed away from cancer when I was thirteen years old.  This was extremely hard for me as she was the only family I had really ever known and trusted.  She showed me that there are good things in life, and she helped me adjust from being the child that I was to the woman that I am today.  She helped me understand that while bad things happen, that does not mean you can’t pick yourself up from situations and learn from them.  My grandmother taught me that regardless of where you come from or how you grow up, it is up to you to make something of yourself; that your past does not define who you are.  She always said that we are only given things that we can handle and I am so grateful for having her in my life for even the briefest of moments.  What she taught me will last not only for the remainder of my life, but hopefully for my children’s as well.

– Venette Gonzales, 1st Place in Essay