In 1990 I became a foster parent to teens in care and teens with babies for 10 years. It was my time with these young ladies that developed my passion for developing better programs for youth in foster care who are not reunited with birth families.
The young ladies that I had the pleasure of knowing and loving had a variety of reason for being in care. I never asked a single one about their story and I wouldn’t allow social workers to tell me either. I wanted all of them to have the opportunity to start fresh with me, without any judgements. We formed ground rules that we all agreed with; curfews, chores, school, visitors, etc.
I discovered that these young ladies were so accustomed to being accused of things that they were methodical about cleaning, putting things back where they found them, and even adjusting my figurines on the coffee table. I had a simple rule for all of us. We should never be able to tell who was anywhere in the house. In other words, cleaning behind yourself was like covering your tracks. At first it became a game of knowing who suspects were by clues. Eventually, no one wanted to be ‘caught’ and my house remained spotless.
Most of the young ladies remained with me up to emancipation. that was how I learned of the horrors of being ‘thrown away’. That’s what it felt like to them and that’s what it looked like to me. I had a couple of girls in independent living programs but they were designed poorly and eventually, dissolved. My passion since those years, has been to develop a better program. My dissertation is presently about developing a program that truly prepares them for success after emancipation. With the new laws that allow youth to remain in care, the opportunity to provide true transition preparation services has been expanded. I remain in contact with a few of ‘my girls’. I’m still Aunt Max; but as they have said ‘ Boy, you’ve gotten old!”
After retiring from a very large school system, I decided to get a doctoral degree just to add a level of credence and authority to my quest for this program development. As researchers like to say, the literature says that developing social and emotional supports must be included with the basic life skills offered at this time. I have a plan and I pray that it bears fruit for all of the young ladies with children or pregnant, and those who have not decided that a baby will provide the love and trust they long for.
I was happy when I heard them say things like, “Tell Aunt Max…she said, tell the truth and you won’t get in trouble. I believe her”. And that was the truth. “Ask Aunt Max -she knows everything!” (not true but it felt good, anyway).” Aunt Max, I need advice about my boyfriend…”