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From Service to Passion My love story with young women in foster care

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…”

2 Comments

  1. Katja Davis on August 24, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Thank you for your story.

    I love your explanation of how we can both teach and be taught with the individuals that surround us day to day.
    Your examples of what the girls said tells it all. It is clear that they felt safe with you. And it is equally clear that they made an everlasting impact on your life as well. Thank you again for sharing.

    Kindly,
    Katja



  2. Pam on August 26, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    I would love to know your plan. Like you, I have worked with teen moms…..about 25 years for me. After opening a group home and independent living program 18 years ago, I have seen so many changes within the foster care system and society it is discouraging. At this point the system cares less about what the teen moms need to be prepared and be the best mom they can be; than they do about allowing them to dictate services and giving in to teen demands at the detriment of the babies.

    Can we get back on track? I have my doubts. All I know is I have spent the last five months defending our program with the state by answering questions like .’why we do not buy Huggies brand of diapers instead of generic?” ‘why do we have to get food that is good for us?” “this is not our home why do we have to keep it clean?”

    So are state system’s teaching kids in care what they need to survive on their own? Yes they are! Not to be productive members of society; instead they are teaching entitlement and manipulation at it’s best. So maybe the children can make it as adults just fine; but i am not sure I would want to be around them.

    However, I would love to hear your plan to make the system better.