Abuse Within America's Foster Care System - Children at Risk

A Foster Care Survivor - Part 1

January 06, 2010
by Janey Falk/Associated Content

America has a nasty habit of stigmatizing those less fortunate. Children, our most vulnerable citizens, struggle on an every day basis to learn what it means to grow up and be responsible but those children who are unfortunate enough to enter this world in an abusive home have their chances of a decent life slashed severely by society if not by the trauma they are forced to live through.

In a 2006 ABC News Report (Primetime), Dr. Wade Horn, former child psychologist and Director of the Department of Health and Human Services for George W. Bush, stated that "the foster care system was a giant mess and should just be blown up". He was most critical of the Federal government's way of funding foster care, "$5 billion that goes mostly to keeping kids in foster care". According to Dr. Wade, there was no provisions for treatment, prevention, family support or "aging out" (turned out at 18 yrs. of age). The ways things were set up is to keep everything exactly as they were, supporting the status quo, as it already was. He wanted to rethink foster care on a national level.

Dr. Wade's interview in 2006 was an eye opener for many but anyone who takes a serious look at the foster care system before the year 2000 would either be horrified or in denial that America's children have been put at such risk and many of their problems in adult life can be traced to their time in foster homes.

The following is a true story...my story. It is a three part personal expose` of the damage that can be done by the foster care system. I, by no means, was a perfect child, nor do I claim to have been. I do not want sympathy nor do I want pity. I am a worthwhile person...warm, generous and intelligent. I have never been arrested, have no interest in drugs, alcohol or dishonor of any type. I am one of the lucky ones who survived the foster care system by making good choices and fighting hard not to give up. The first few years of life were spent being hammered both physically by abuse and psychologically being told how worthless I was. That, combined with the rejection from the foster care system left me believing that I was not worthy of love and kindness for almost 25 years of my life. I had to work very diligently to find my self worth on my own because those meant to protect and nurture me did very little other than inflict pain or low self esteem. My adult life, for more than two decades now, revolves around love, laughter, smiles...and lots of hugs.

I am a survivor...and a happy person at that. The perils of the foster care system did not end with me, unfortunately, and it has now come back, like the ghost of Christmas past, to try and make a victim out of me, yet again. I am not a victim and I refuse to allow anyone to turn me into one.

You, the reader, can determine how this story should end.

It was acceptable through the 70s that the family pet had more legal protection than a child did. I can remember watching a neighbor being taken to jail, eventually going to Federal prison, for kicking his dog across the yard in the mid 70s, yet my neighbors, teachers and principal at school could not get law enforcement to intervene on my behalf to stop the severe physical abuse that lasted for thirteen (13) years. I finally forced the issue by running away with the threat to run again if they took me back.

Local law enforcement finally investigated while I sat in Juvenile Hall, finding more than sufficient evidence of the abuse and was actually amazed that I had lived through it all. After transferring me to the Children's Shelter for a month or so, I was put into foster care in 1975 and "aged out" in 1980. Within the 5 1/2 years of being a ward of the State of Oklahoma, I was placed in more than twelve (12) different placements (including foster homes, Baptist Home {OKC}, Lloyd E. Rader Institute {Sand Springs, OK.}, juvenile centers and group homes) and had to transfer to different schools at least (8) times.

My first foster home placement, at 13 years old, ended harshly when the son of friend of my foster family attempted to sexually assault me in my sleep. I told my ultra religious foster mother who accused me of lying and promiscuity right before having me removed from her home. Instead of trying to protect me, she refused to believe me and threw me away. She believed I absolutely had to be lying because I was a foster child. I was pushed into church, choir, Sunday School and other religious events, which I took on without hesitation and excelled at each, yet religious views were the reason I was put out. I have to wonder how many girls that boy assaulted afterwards since he got away with the assault on me.

I asked to leave my second foster home placement after two years, which was the longest placement I was in. Another girl had been placed in the home a year after me. The two of us had known each other for many years and did not care for each other's company at all. Our foster mother's health began declining after the second girl moved in and the behavior of the second girl put severe stress on her. I had become accustomed to calling her "Mom" and I was having a difficult time watching her health go down the drain with all the stress in the home. I asked my social worker to move me after Mom spent a few days in the hospital for stress related causes, thinking that if the second girl and myself didn't argue, some of the stress would dissipate. Mom's well being was worth sacrificing my future over as far as I was concerned and I would give up all I had if it would help her. That kind of sacrifice for a sixteen year old can only come from love. I was moved but Mom did not understand or appreciate it and she didn't want to be "Mom" anymore. She never forgave me and did not want to have any type of relationship at all, she resented me to the core. I had, again, been pushed to be involved in their church, youth group, choir, Sunday School, puppet team and all manner of religious functions, yet she could not see past her own resentment to forgive a child who would sacrifice all she had for her. Twenty years later, when "Dad" was dying of cancer, she still would not allow me to come see him (to say "goodbye") after he asked me to come.

The Lloyd E. Rader Institute was an experience I would not wish on an enemy. It was an exercise in absolute conditioning, or as close to it as possible. It reminded me of what this country did to Native American children when our government took them from their parents and tried to assimilate them by "teaching" the Native out of them. One girl which I liked pretty well had an attitude problem for which I could not slight her. She was a gay teen that had been gang raped because of the fact that she was gay. Her parents really had a problem with her being gay but they refused to believe that she was raped at all and sent her to the Rader Institute for an attitude adjustment. It was expected that all kids fit the "cookie cutter" mold of subservient (seen but not heard), straight and totally obedient and if you did not, the Rader Institute was the answer. Kids were not allowed an opinion that they could voice or anything psychologically that did not fit the mold...oops...program. We were expected not to be individuals but instead to be real life "Lemmings". I was the quiet kid and still ended up in solitary confinement twice in six months, which doesn't speak well for the institute.

The Baptist Home in OKC had their heart in the right place but not much else. You can not trust that "God" will protect the kids in the dormitories or that He will be the source for their emotional, psychological or physical safety. Bullies come through and take advantage of the more timid, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes were constantly on hand and there was more religion than there was security. Denial of a child's background or problems did not make any of it go away so most of the kids I knew that went through the Baptist Home got very little help, if any. It was more of a temporary halfway house for trouble kids.

I ran away from the third foster home in Norman, Oklahoma after being punished for not wanting to eat fried potatoes that were seasoned with a fried cockroach, and then told I was only in the home because they were being paid to have me...for that, I was given yet another label to stigmatize me with, I was now "incorrigible"

I was pretty much a quiet and docile sixteen year old kid up to that point. I did well in school, did not touch drugs, refused to drink liquor of any kind, always called if I was going to be late, was respectful and considerate, was voluntarily involved with all forms of their religious functions, yet I was considered the problem. This is the way of the foster home for many children. If they are not problem kids when they go into the system, many become problem children because of the system.

The next trip to juvenile hall put me in the situation of either fighting or allowing an employee to get physically violent with me. I fought back to a degree but when it came to the right hook I threw toward him, I swerved intentionally and hit the cinder block wall. I ended up in solitary but it was better than going to jail for defending myself. That same employee ended up getting caught abusing another kid a few months later. He eventually got fired and even went to jail for child abuse but when an authority figure gets away with it once, that is one time too many.

More juvenile hall, foster homes and group homes came and went and then turned out with very little at age 18. I graduated high school while in juvenile hall and I had to fight them to even allow it. My father had died five years earlier and his social security checks that were supposed to come to me were being spent by the state of Oklahoma. I found out at age 17 that I was supposed to be getting the checks but there was no more than three checks given to me in five and a half years, no trust fund or bank account in my name...just three checks. It is my understanding that taking the social security checks from a child and spending her money is supposed to be illegal. Hmmm...

When my children were born in 82 and 85, I became an easy target for anyone with a grudge, simply because I had been in the system as a child. In Oklahoma as a single mother at 20, I was "anonymously" reported for child neglect. I was summoned to a meeting with a social worker to talk about the charge and walked eight (8) miles to get to the meeting. I was forgiven for being late since I did not own a car and was informed of the charges. During the course of an investigation, the Oklahoma Social Services had determined that the woman who had made the accusation had wanted to take my daughter for her own in the hopes that a baby would strengthen her marriage. There was no basis for the charge but someone wanting to interfere out of her own selfishness had been allowed to put me on record for possible abuse that had never occurred. This incident was the beginning of what would turn out to be the devastation of my family.
Since I had been in the foster care system I was more subject to abuse reports and it did not matter how hard I tried to do the best possible job at parenting, an anonymous report could devastate both my child and myself. It did not matter that I took parenting classes voluntarily, I had no record for jail, drugs or drinking but was considered an "at risk" parent because I had been abused, myself. I was never told whether it was my mother's abuse or the abuse within the foster care system that was the reason I was risky but I suppose it did not matter. I sustained the physical abuse at home and the emotional and psychological abuse in the system that was charged with protecting me.

I married a year later, had another daughter and eventually moved to California where my family was devastated beyond repair...and now I am expected to pay for the damage...

To be continued...

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