Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Virtual Interview with Foster Alumni, Lisa


Here is the promised Q + A post from our friend Lisa, who we were introduced to when she talked a bit about her journey through foster care.  Continue reading for some first hand answers from an adult who spent some of her formative years in foster care and then went on to be adopted by her last and final foster home.  Thanks for sharing Lisa!

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Moving in foster care. Can you remember anything that was said or done that helped the transition from foster home to foster home?
I realize that this is not always possible and generally out of foster parents’ hands, but for my last placement the transition was very slow. We met with our new foster parents for a couple of hours one afternoon. Then a few days later stayed with them for a weekend and then a week later we moved in. That time taken with the transition really helped me feel comfortable with where we were going and who we were going to.

Again, also not always possible, but in that transition, we had our own room. It was so great to have a safe place that I felt was all mine and only mine, especially after living in an overcrowded home just before. Our foster parents had spent time to personalize it as well. A small box of new toys, a book that they knew I liked. Those things were small, but made a huge difference because it showed that they took the time to know me and that they cared for me. That I wasn’t just another kid in their home, another mouth to feed or another bed filled.

Adoption. What did you initially think of adoption when you first heard of it in a general way and how did that change when it was happening to you?
I don’t really remember when I first heard about the concept of adoption. I guess it wasn’t really something I thought about since I didn't know anyone who had been adopted and it was never discussed prior to the start of my adoption process. I remember my parents telling me that there was going to be a hearing where the judge was going to decide if my bio parents’ rights would be terminated, meaning that we would never go back to live with them. I don’t remember if they talked about adoption at that point, but I very clearly remember when they asked us if we wanted to be adopted and live with them forever. I don’t think I could say “yes” fast enough! Now it amazes me how many people I know who have been touched by adoption, whether they were adopted themselves, have a sibling or parent who was adopted or is a birth mother or father.

What did your adoptive family do to help you settle in and feel like a part of the family (if that happened)?
The first thing was the discussion of names. They made it clear that we could change our names if we wanted to. We could change our first name, last name, both or neither. I knew immediately that I wanted to change my last name. I wanted to “belong” and to me that meant we all needed to have the same last name. I think it meant a lot to them too that we all had the same name, but I know they wanted us to feel comfortable with the decision. My brother and I both ended up keeping our original first and middle names and changed our last names to match our parents.

The second thing was the adoption party. My parents threw a huge party celebrating our adoption and welcoming us to the family. All of our relatives from both my mom and dad’s side of the family were there. I got two presents that day that now mean the world to me. My grandmother gave me a bible with a beautiful inscription and the date. And one of my dad’s relatives gave me a bracelet inscribed with my name and the date of my adoption. This dates means a lot to me and even though we don’t really celebrate it, I always call my parents on that day.

The biggest thing was just creating our own family traditions and memories that we still follow and talk about today. There’s the Summer Rain Dance, the Ice Cream Bowl Ceremony, and heart-shaped meatloaf and pink mashed potatoes on Valentine’s Day. There’s the time when my brother ate horseradish sauce for the first time, the time I got a new bike and proceeded to crash into our neighbor’s mailbox and the time we all dressed up in matching shirts to sing Happy Birthday to my dad at work. These are the things that create a family.

Did you ever have a CASA or someone that was a constant in your life?
I think at one point I had a CASA, but I don’t really remember. If I did, they weren't around enough to a make an impression. My social workers changed several times as well, so there was never really any adult who was a constant in my life. I have been a mentor myself (not a CASA) and know first-hand how having that special someone in your life can make a huge difference. I really wish that I had had someone like that to help me through the craziness my early childhood.

What did you find most helpful for healing? Did it help when your mother would talk about things with you and initiate the conversation? Or did you prefer to keep things to yourself and talk when you brought it up? What age were you when you first started "unpacking"?
When I was a kid (and even into adulthood), I was very unwilling to express my emotions. When I was upset, I would literally just shut down. I wouldn't talk, I wouldn't move, I wouldn't look at anyone. I didn't cry. I just held it all in. My last foster parents (later adoptive parents) never made me feel bad about my behavior. They quietly encouraged me to express myself in whatever way felt comfortable. They left a notebook next to me and encouraged me to write down what I was thinking. Once I was comfortable writing, they started to ask me to read what I had written. Once I felt comfortable reading it, then they started asking me to paraphrase what I had written. Once I felt comfortable with that, then they started asking me to just say whatever it was I was feeling. This took a long, long time for me to be able to do, but just that quiet encouragement set the foundation for me to feel comfortable and safe enough to express myself. This notebook process started pretty soon after I moved in with them, so I was probably 8 years old, but it took many years for me to be able to talk about things without writing them down. Even up to my early 20s, I had episodes when I would shut down, so truly being able to express myself was a long and arduous process, which I’m still working on because even though I was adopted over 20 years ago, I still often times doubt that the people who mean the most to me will stay in my life, since the lesson I learned so early on was that everyone leaves.

What would you do now to change "the system"?
Oh, this is a charged question!!  Firstly, I think there have been a lot of changes made to the foster system since I was in care. And I do understand that “the system” is different state to state, county to county and even social worker to social worker so it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations. I will say this: each child is so different and each child’s experiences are so different that making the CHILD the first priority should be the golden rule when it comes to placements. Not the foster parents, not the agency, not the birth parents. I know that this happens in theory and I’m sure it happens in more places than not, but it didn’t always happen for me and it was very detrimental.

If I had to take a stand on one policy change within “the system”, and this is just my opinion based on my experiences, I would put a time limit on how long a bio family has to get their act together before their rights are terminated. In my case, I was in foster care for years when it was pretty obvious that my bio parents did not have and would not be able to learn the skills necessary to take care of a child. If their rights had been terminated earlier, I might have been spared years of foster care. But then again, I probably wouldn’t have been adopted by the family I was adopted by, and my life would still have been completely different.

In terms of the broader “system,” I would love to really change the stereotypes and media portrayals of foster children. There are so many times I’m watching a TV show and the “bad” person has been in and out of foster care. I know the statistics are staggering, but it’s already so hard for foster children to see their own self-worth without the media and broader society making them feel that they can never overcome their obstacles and that they’ll only ever “bad.” One of my favorite TV show at the moment is Bones, mostly because two of main characters grew up in foster care and have become healthy, stable, wonderful people, providing a positive, if fictional, role models for any foster child.

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If you learned something, give a shout out to Lisa in the comment section - let's encourage all those brave enough to share their story.

If you have any follow up questions, please leave them in the comment section below - if we get enough, maybe Lisa would conciser doing a third edition.. :)


3 comments :

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa. I love the idea of putting the child first -- that principle is a great way of framing the variety of situations that come up. What a great idea about the notebook to help you learn how to communicate. Thanks.

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  2. Thanks for great information. I got this right off. I will come back again.
    fostering agencies London

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  3. Lisa,
    As I do not remember as much as you during our "journey", you have given me great insight into the mindset of a foster child that is older. Obviously I remember different things, so it is definately true that the experience is different for every child. I do believe that the older the child grows while remaining in foster care, the harder it is for them to accept a "safe and secure" home. Shoot, we both still struggle with even acceptance of ourselves! However, I do credit you for being the most amazing big sister in the world! I could have ended up worse. I'm not always able to tell you but you mean the world to me and I love you.
    Love,
    Your lil bro Ed
    P.S. We SHOULD celebrate it!!!!

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It'll be a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Alisa