- November 2014
- Vol. 15, No. 10
Associate Commissioner's Page
The following is the monthly message from JooYeun Chang, the Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau. Each message focuses on the current CBX Spotlight theme and highlights the Bureau's work on the topic.
Many of us in the child welfare field use terms like "permanency" that may not mean much to the children, youth, and families with whom we work. About 10 years ago, I had the pleasure of talking with a group of FosterClub All Stars—youth who have successfully transitioned from foster care to independent living and help inspire positive transitions for their peers. During our conversation, it became clear that no one had taken the time to ask what permanency meant to them.
For this year’s National Adoption Month, I wanted to devote my page to the youth voice and raise awareness about the meaning of permanency. Below is my conversation with Amber, a young woman who was adopted from foster care at 17. She also is a 2014 FosterClub All Star. Amber's story is one of perseverance, hope, and most important, permanent and lifelong connections.
Joo: How did you come into contact with foster care, and what was your experience like?
Amber: I entered foster care when I was about 5 years old, and I don't know why. I was never told why. I was originally in foster care in Florida, but I made my way to Michigan when I was 10 or 11. That's when I went through my first adoption, after I went into kinship care with mom's youngest sister.
Joo: Did your caseworker ask if you if you wanted to be adopted by your aunt?
Amber: Being adopted was always part of my permanency plan, but I don't remember being asked. There wasn't much of a conversation with me about it. After I had been in foster care a few years and it was apparent that my mother couldn't take care of me and my sister, I was told at the spur of the moment that I was moving in 2 weeks. I had never met my aunt. I didn't know who she was. I had never been to Michigan and didn't know anyone else there. I was just told, "You're being adopted." After about 2 years, I ran away. It wasn't a good environment for me and I didn't have anyone to reach out to.
Joo: What about your sister? Did she leave with you?
Amber: No. I didn't want her to go through that. After my adoption was disrupted, I ended up in a group home and then back in foster care. My sister joined me, and we were placed together at first. It was tough, though. We had been used to living in one home for a while, and then we were put back into foster care where we didn't want to be. I felt betrayed. The one thing we really wanted was to be with our family, and having two people in my family who didn’t want me made me wonder if anyone cared. I wondered, "Was this their plan all along? Did I do something wrong? Am I a bad kid?" It was tough being constantly traumatized by being with so many families and not finding one to call home.
Joo: Were you able to stay in contact with your sister?
Amber: She had a friend whose parents were interested in adopting her, but they didn't realize that she had an older sister, and they didn't want a "packaged deal." So, she was adopted by her parents, and I have not spoken to her in 5 years. I ended up being in so many homes myself that I lost track. But when I was about 16, I found my adoptive family. They found me through the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE).
Joo: What does the word "permanence" mean to you? Do you feel like you have permanence, and when did you realize you had it?
Amber: It means unconditional love and not necessarily with someone in your biological family. It doesn't matter that I have an adoptive mom or dad. I have that sense of permanence and that notion that no matter what, they're not going to leave me. No matter what, I'm not going to be left stranded. The first time I felt it was when I was in the courthouse on adoption day. When I was adopted the first time it was different because of jurisdictional issues. I couldn't be there for the hearing. But the second time, there was a feeling that it was real. I think I even got to bang the gavel!
My dad likes to say to me that he always knew I'd be their daughter. That was the greatest feeling I ever had. He likes to remind me a lot that he loves me. It's been 4 years, and I'm comfortable with the realization that I'm not going back in foster care.
Joo: Do you have any advice for children or youth who are in foster care and waiting to be adopted?
Amber: I would say don't give up. Age is just a number. I joke and say that I could be in my 40s and my parents would still adopt me. We as foster youth have so much against us and it seems easy for us to give up, but when there's an option for permanence—and it can be adoption, guardianship, permanent kinship care, a relationship with an awesome foster family—everyone has a shot at permanency. Just don't give up and keep going.
Joo: Do you have any advice for caseworkers?
Amber: Don't give up. Plenty of caseworkers gave up on me because they thought I was a problem kid or could never get out of the system. Caseworkers are part of our support system. They play a big part in our lives and when they give up on us, it reinforces the idea that we're never going to have that sense of permanency. So, don't give up on your kids. They may give you a hard time now, but they'll be thankful for it in the long run. There was one person who didn't give up on me.
Joo: Do you have any advice for families interested in becoming foster or adoptive families?
Amber: Keep an open mind. There are plenty of bright and amazing people in the system who need help, whether they're 9, 17, or 15. They're just looking for a home, and the best thing you can do is to keep an open mind and an open heart.