By Sixto Cancel: For Complete Post, click here…
Mr. Cancel is the founder of an organization dedicated to changing foster care in America.
When I was 15, an usher at my church offered to become my foster parent. Hers was one of the best foster homes I lived in. But she wanted a son. It was more than I was able to give.
I had been in foster care since I was 11 months old because of my mother’s drug addiction and poverty. Adopted at age 9 by a racist and abusive woman, I was locked out of the house at age 13. For two years, I couch surfed with friends, then entered foster care again. I was told I was loved, that I was a part of a family, yet I would always find myself moved to a new placement, with all my stuff in a trash bag.
In the three months I lived with the church usher, I couldn’t unblock the years of numbness I had developed to survive. It is difficult to hug back or reply, “I love you, too,” when all you have ever known is betrayal from parental figures. Her doors soon closed to me.
I found out on a school trip. My social worker called to tell me that all my stuff had been packed and left at the Department of Children and Families. My next stop was to be a group home.
My younger brother lived in a group home for five years. I saw how workers there restrained him, took away his visiting “privileges” when he misbehaved and how he ate cafeteria food for every meal.
I refused to go. I knew that no matter how difficult it had been for me to join foster families of total strangers, an institutional context would be worse. I persuaded my social worker to find me yet another foster home.
My foster care placements failed not because I didn’t belong in a family but because the system failed to identify kinship placements for me and lacked enough culturally competent, community-based services to keep me in a home that had a chance at success.