Monday, June 25, 2007

Why she can't stay (in care)

In my limited expereience, emancipating foster kids come in two groups: the ones who want to move out on their 18th birthdays and those who would rather not move out at all. Which way they will go depends upon many factors, but I have learned that trying to convince someone to stay in care when they have already decided not to is rather like trying to convince someone to quit smoking.

Getting them to agree that one option is clearly the rational choice is the easy part.

At the most fundamental, the decision is not a rational one. It is not about what is in their long-term best interest.

Imagine: you're in a job you really hate. No, you are in jail. For years you have been dreaming of the day you will leave. The only thing that got you through was the dream of your release date. You have felt unwanted, unloved. You have had different wardens who have different rules. Some have given you passes for the occasional field trip, but some have not. In any case an outside supervisor has to approve everything. That ouside supervisior changes regularly too. They say they are trying to help you, but what they are really doing is micromanaging you.

And you have been looking forward to the release date. You have dreamt of it. Some days it was the only thing that got you through.

And then it approaches as everyone starts saying, "Why don't you sign up for another year? You know it will be easier to finish high school if you stay."

Some kids who left tell you that it is not as easy out there as you think. It looks pretty out there, but it is a whole lot more difficult than you think. They wish they had just stuck it out for that extra year. Their lives would be so much easier. But you have friends who were never in this prison at all. You have a place you can stay when you leave. The warden and the supervisor says, "But what it doesn't work out? What if it goes bad?" But you know these people and they don't.

And so, Dear Reader, are you there in your imagination? Are you standing in the grey prison hallway looking at the sunshine past the gate? The warden and the supervisor are not terrible people, but you have dealt with them and their kind for eight years. "Stay with us" they say. "Stay here where it is grey, where we can watch and comment and evaluate how you spend every minute of every day. Stay with us one more year. You will be glad you did."

But outside the door you can see sunshine.

Of course we don't see it that way, but she does.


  1. Yes! YES! YES! That's exactly it. I couldn't wait to get out of care because it was so terrible. At least out of care I free to do as I pleased and controlled my own life. If I sank or swimmed, it was because of my actions. And let me tell you - group homes are just as bad as prisons - and often with white painted concrete walls to boot.

    I dreamed of an apartment with carpet or wood floors and not industrial linoleum and institutional bunk beds.

    In my day, we didn't have the situation your kids do, of staying in care an extra year, but what I did do was take up every option before I aged out. They got me into the local community college, helped me get financial aid, and find a cheap apartment. I already had a job, I had to buy a car and they took me to salvation army to get dishes. I wouldn't have been able to do it on my own. I didn't have the life skills.

    I wanted to leave when the school year ended in the end of June, and they convinced me to stay through the end of August. But to stay one minute past August 31st? (I turned 18 in September). HELL NO.

  2. I wasn't a foster kid, and I felt that exact way when I turned 18. I can only imagine how hard it is for these kids.

    Yondalla, do you mind if I email you privately regarding a potential teen foster situation that I may be doing??


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