Trigger warning: Child abuse
As children, it is natural to believe that adults have children’s best interest at heart. I truly believe that negative building blocks in childhood often direct a tumultuous adult life if proper therapy is not offered.
I survived a negative experience in foster care.
According to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DPFS) and Child protective services (CPS), the number of children in foster care increased in the year 2020. It appears that numbers are slowly rising. More than 20,000 children were taken from their homes in 2020, with one-fourth of the children being adopted out.
I was displaced from my mother’s home at age two, over 30 years ago, but I can remember it all as though it were yesterday. Adults loved to tell me that I don’t remember that long back, but I do. Despite this adversity, I give many thanks to my oldest sister for reporting her abuse and neglect that safely allowed the rest of us security thereafter.
I recall two nurses and Virginia, my Black case worker, turning me upside down, prodding my thighs with needles, and squeezing my tight fingers at age two. I could clearly feel my body turned to every side and her saying, “She has two more here.” I remember Virginia distinctly, her color, because at two, I was not at eye level with anyone. I probably looked at everything in front of me, namely her hands or her legs that showed in a skirt.
I was covered in bruises. My black eyes stared at my little chubby legs and saw two dark green bruises on the high of my thighs. My foster mother, Christina, was beating me weekly. She force fed me on numerous occasions. I clearly see myself as though I were watching a movie. I see my little face, holding back my tears, holding my feelings in as she shoves one, then two tortillas that were purposely slathered in red hot sauce into my mouth. She would strike me if I refused to eat another morsel.
Or many times she took me away from the comfort of Texas on a plane to California, knowing full well the visits with my mother were just around the corner. I would sit on the plane and watch out the window, and then I would look at my chubby little legs and realize how, even at my age, they didn’t quite reach the floor. There was no way I would be able to outrun Christina.
I do not like it when people say that I do not remember the time before I was five, because I do. I remember it all.
Many foster children are misplaced after failed attempts with biological parents. In fact, only 49% of children are successfully reunited with biological parents. There are programs a parent must complete to pass to reunite with their children. Every month my mother showed proof that she was looking for work. She never had a formal job, and she was alone during the entire process, but she made due with the help Virginia provided. She never gave up.
I ask her now what that process was like and she says, “I had to go walking, sometimes to different stores, writing with a trembling hand. I did not have a car. I would walk one or two hours until I reached the office to see my daughters.”
My sisters and I were placed in foster care. The two oldest together, the next two together, and me, by myself.
My mother tells me now that she was always afraid to say goodbye at every meeting. According to patterns of foster care placement and abuse,“Of the children placed out-of-home, half of them achieved permanency within the study’s 3-year time horizon . Of those children, most of them reached permanency through reunification (73.3 percent).)
There was still that 25% that caused fear in my mother’s and sisters’ eyes. If therapy was not working, there was a reprimand, no gifts, or worse, less time with our mother. My mother’s fear became more real at one of our meetings when she heard me outwardly call my foster mother “mami.”
I don’t know what caused me to call this woman mom. Christina would purposely leave me to watch movies like Chucky alone in my room, often locking the doors behind her. She would also leave me with several of my foster brothers whose favorite pastime was scaring me with large dolls or big stuffed animals. It sounds funny now, but to a child, it is beyond horrifying. I was afraid of big stuffed animals until the age of 15.
Separation of families is all too common. Christina pursued the adoption paperwork within six months of me being assigned to her household. Families are often separated due to adoption.
Research says that children who experience trauma are likely to suffer from depression or many other mental illnesses later. I know now that these problems are due in large part because of frequent change in housing, fractured family relationships, abusive foster households, and a lack of therapy during these transitions.
I don’t blame my oldest sibling for saving herself and in effect saving the rest of us from any more trauma that happened at home. I often wonder how she had the courage to speak up at the tender age of 11. My older sisters received years of therapy, and that’s great. They were old enough to take that part of the reunification process at value.
I thank them for taking care of themselves years later too. When a smell or sight easily transports them to the very place they escaped from, I know that the skills they learned will be of access forever. I thank them every day for letting me learn from them.
I reached out to therapy 20 years later and it really made all the difference for me. I am being heard and validated. I have a voice and I will no longer keep quiet.