May 2016Vol. 17, No. 3Cortez's Story: One Youth's Foster Care Experience
This month, we share Cortez's story, a young person who experienced foster care throughout his childhood and youth. His experiences speak to the challenges faced by many of our nation's children and youth in finding safe and permanent homes. Cortez's story is a powerful reminder that we should all take the time to consider what each of us can do to enhance the lives of children and youth in care. The 2016 National Foster Care Month website shares more real-life stories of children, youth, and families related to reunification that can help child welfare workers, managers, training staff, and others gain perspective and engage audiences in a variety of settings. Access the stories at https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/reallifestories/.
How did you come into contact with foster care?
Cortez: My biological mother gave birth to me while she was incarcerated in West Virginia.
What was your experience like in care? How long were you in care? Do you have any siblings and, if so, were you placed together?
Cortez: This is sort of a trick question for me. All my life, I had been in care. It was not a case where the child was taken out of their parent's home and placed into care. I started out in care, at day one. So for me, there was no "standard" to live by; whatever was placed in front of me was the "norm." I always tell people that I was in care for 21 years. Although I was adopted for about 4 of those years, I still felt as if that counts. I did not like the woman I was adopted by; I did not feel as if she treated me with care and that's how I felt in every other foster home, except one, so I count that as being "in care." My biological mother has six children. The three youngest, including myself, were placed in some of the same homes and even adopted by the same lady. Other than that, we were not placed together, and we didn't meet our three older siblings until I was 12. Later on in life, I searched for my biological dad's family.
Did your caseworker discuss your permanency plan with you? What were the primary goals of your plan? Did your caseworker talk to you about plans for adoption or reunification with your birth family?
Cortez: Out of the many caseworkers that I had growing up, I can only remember two of them sharing my permanency plan with me. One, I think, thought I was mature enough to understand it, and the other knew I wasn't having it any other way. At one point in time, one of the primary goals in my plan was to find a foster home that could be permanent; I didn't want to be adopted again. Later on in life, one of the goals on my plan was for me to graduate high school. It was a rough period of time for me, then. When I was able to move in with my aunt and uncle at 12, my caseworker asked if I'd want to be adopted by them. I told her I'd need some time before that was an option again. My aunt and uncle were the only ones that were financially capable of taking care of me.
What were your foster parents like? What kind of supports did they provide while you were under their care?
Cortez: My last two foster parents (two separate homes) were probably the most supportive ones I've ever had. The first of these two (at 14 years old) really did want the best for me and two of my siblings who she fostered as well. She fed us, talked to us about our days, and asked what we wanted out of life. We were the ones who messed up that home. I believe it was too much for us to handle, especially because we were all teenagers and used to a life that she did not approve of. The second of the two was the first man that we have ever lived with, besides our biological aunt's husband. He was a single man with five other children he was responsible for. I was 16 when I moved into his home, and I was already set in my ways. Needless to say, we did not get along. I was rarely in the home. After school, I'd work 7 hours every day. The only thing he did that helped make me who I am today was doubt me.
Did your foster parents and birth parents have contact with each other? Did they work together toward a permanency/reunification goal for you and your birth family?
Cortez: My birth parents had no contact with my foster parents, except for when my biological aunt had custody of me. Nothing was ever done to move forward that had anything to do with the word "permanent."
Were you able to reunite with your family? How did that come about, and what did it mean to you?
Cortez: Yes. When I moved in with my biological aunt, I was able to spend some time around my family. When I was placed in a group home, I was told that I would have to go back to another foster home. After spending a year in that group home, I was comfortable, and I did not want to go live with more strangers. So I asked my caseworker to look for my biological family to see if anyone would be willing to take me. Finally, after months of looking and meetings, I was able to move into my aunt's home.
What did you want in terms of permanency for yourself?
Cortez: What person under the age of 15 who has never known permanency or stability could tell you what they wanted? I think the question you should be asking is, what did you want to change that you were going through?