by Catherine Sanders
I came into the system in 2008 when I was 13 years old. At that time, my case plan was reunification. I knew from the start that I didn’t want to return to my biological mother. I constantly told my workers and everyone else involved in the case that, but no one seemed to listen to me. Instead they just tried to facilitate visits and send us to family therapy. Those in charge had set the goal, and it stayed that way until I was 17 years old. Then I was told my plan was APPLA—or Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement. Even though I wanted real permanency with my present family, no one even mentioned the word adoption to me or suggested it was possible. They just talked about my aging out of the system and how to prepare for that.
In May, I attended a youth advocacy training hosted by NACAC. There I realized adoption was attainable. I listened to youth from around the country and Canada talk about being adopted after they were 18. I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself, why didn’t anyone talk to me about this after all these years? As soon as I heard this revelation, it changed so much for me.
All I had ever heard about was aging out and whether I was saving enough for my future. I was asked what my plans were for work and college, and told I should think about getting a certificate rather than finishing my undergraduate degree. There were periods where I was completely stressed out, depressed, and anxious because of the constant questions about what I would do next. It was as if everyone was sucking the oxygen out of my lungs. I even had thoughts of suicide because I was so deeply afraid I would become a statistic—suffering terrible problems like many youth who age out of care.
I had been with my family for four years when my goal was changed to APPLA, with a goal achievement date of October 2015 when I will turn 21 and would age out of care. Now I have been with my family for almost seven years and still have heard nothing about adoption. With an APPLA goal, there is supposed to be a compelling reason why no permanent family is being recruited for me. But when I saw my court report, there was nothing written about why they weren’t trying to help me get adopted.
After I attended the training in May, I wanted to talk with my aunt and uncle, who are my guardians, about adoption. I didn’t want to do it alone, so I asked a recruiter at my agency to come with me. My aunt and uncle were as surprised as I was to learn that adoption after 18 is possible.
I want you to know where I’m headed. I’m starting my junior year of college and have a 3.4 GPA. I plan to get a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. I will use this degree to be a motivational speaker, using my voice to give light to others in my position. I want to motivate those who believe that there is no sun after the rain, because I personally know how that feels. I also aspire to be a newscaster or an actress.
If I were a social worker, I would do my best to understand each child, and find out what she wants in her heart. Even if she’s close to aging out, I would still go over the other options—adoption, guardianship, and kinship care—not just APPLA. This is especially important if a child has been with her family for a long time, like I have. You can’t just push the child into aging out. You can’t just keep asking, “What are you going to do after you age out? What are you doing to prepare for aging out?” It’s too stressful. Other kids have the opportunity to live with their parents until they’re ready for adulthood. Why can’t I have that? I’m human too.
If I were a policy maker I would make policies that direct the child welfare system to do these things:
- Do what’s best for the child, not what’s easiest for the system.
- Remember that workers and administrators get to go home at the end of the day, but kids have to live in the system 24/7.
- Make sure you find homes that are beneficial to the children.
- Find the right place in the beginning so kids don’t have to keep going from place to place.
- Never put a child in a residential program just because you don’t have another plan. It’s scary and can really hurt them and expose them to things that aren’t necessary for them to see. Lots of kids in these programs have serious challenges—it is not right to put those of us who don’t need such care into that environment.
- Talk to children and youth so they know about all the possibilities for them.
- Keep working to find real, permanent families for kids, even when they are teenagers.
I am not a case number in black ink on white paper. I am filled with purpose, and that purpose is what has allowed me to find meaning in every struggle I have endured. My purpose has given me the power to push through years of emptiness, confusion, and depression. John F. Kennedy once said, “… effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” I believe this quote relates to my story in a way because every child put on this earth has a purpose, but it doesn’t begin to manifest without direction. Every child in the system needs a proper, permanent direction, and together we can ensure that they have it.
Originally published in 2014