In this episode we talk with a panel of four former foster youth to find out what it is like to be raised in foster care and what they wish foster parents knew about the experience.
In this episode, we cover:
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Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption and Foster Care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am the host of this show, but I am also the director of the nonprofit creating a family. And over at creating a family, the nonprofit, we do all sorts of things. Mainly we create resources, expert based trauma informed resources to help you. You can find all those resources at our website creating a family.org. Today I am so looking forward to this it is going to be an interview with four former foster youth about what it's like to be in foster care. There are voices of former foster youth are not heard often enough. And I am so happy to have with us today, four of them to to help educate the rest of us. Because if we're trying to do what's in the best interest of the child, which is what we're supposed to be doing, we really do need to live listen to your voices in order to inform what we think of his best interest. So I am so happy and excited about today's interview. We will be talking with Laurie Olson, Laura singer, Jeanette Yaffe and Dan Hall. Now I've just given you their names, which means means very little to you. So what I'm going to do is let each of them individually talk at the beginning about what their experience was with foster care. Laura, you drew the short straw. So you're up for?
This is Laura. All right. All right.
Laurie Simon's I just have Olsen as my maiden name. Oh, so your name is actually Simon's I apologize. I didn't know that. No problem. No problem. Excellent. But I guess I my story was I suffered with child abuse growing up and my mom basically was said she was done with me. And she dumped me on my dad's yard. And then my dad had trouble with substance and domestic violence. And so I was running away from that experience. And I wound up going to a church member, person for safety. And I that turned into foster care at when I was 13. And I aged out, so went to college, got my bachelor's in music, and then taught for a few years. Then I got married and had a baby and started my family. And now I own a newborn photography business, and the foster mom and adoptive mom
to get all the experiences. So you have quite a few you. You took off a lot of boxes there. So you entered it 13 and left it I would say 17 Well, I grew up, you know, when you're in in New York, so I was in New York's foster care system. You stay in foster care, as long as you're in college, and then when you graduate and turn 21, then you're officially not a ward of the state anymore. So that's kind of my journey that I did. Okay, and were you an only 12 were you did you have siblings in your so I have my mom has seven kids. And my mom, my dad had three. So I was the middle of my mom's kids in the middle of my dad's kids. And we all took different different paths. My oldest sister, she went to a residential treatment center and was there. My younger brother, my mom, parented him, and then she had two more kids after that, that she kept so it was kind of me, I was the foster care one, then the residential treatment one. And then I had an older brother who
was kind of in and out of juvie, and those kind of problems. And then the oldest one just ran away from home and she was done. So there are a lot of different things going on.
I was the only one that went through and it was kind of like a kinship care, you know, so I knew who they were they got licensed so they can keep me in their home, but they weren't interested in adopting. And once I aged out, I just they didn't keep in touch with me. So. Okay, okay. Thank you. Okay, next up will be Laura singer. Tell us your connection to foster care, Laura.
Hi, I'm Laura. I'm a product of the New Jersey foster care system. I was in it for two years from the ages of nine to 11. I was separated from my younger brother within the first month, and I was put into 13 different homes. So I did a seven month period and then I went home back with my biological parents and then I was separated three months later for another year. The second time around, they didn't even bother trying to help me with my brother. We were 100% separated. Um, he was between the ages of four and six. My parents were trying to go through a divorce and they were saying some questionable things back and forth. And my mom also struggled with a little bit of mental illness and substance abuse and so between what they were saying there are some questions and they removed us I was not pleased with it.
many family members of the foster homes I was placed her out I didn't know them had no connection to them. Now at one point they had ran out of foster families in my area. And so I was put in a mental home in New Jersey for a month and a half an adult mental home just because they didn't have any place for children. Now I am a recent graduate from Georgetown Law. I went to Syracuse University for undergrad and then I was a teacher for a couple years, I'm really interested in the foster care to education pipelines, and how they mirror the school to prison pipeline. And so trying to interject very now I'm just studying for the bar and hoping to pass so I can be an attorney. I will be in family law court next year working as a clerk, I figured the best way to change the system is to work from within.
And you would be correct. Or at least that's my opinion. So I am immensely thankful that you will be there sharing your experience from the inside out because that really does make a difference. All right, Jeanette, y'all tell us your experience with and your connection with foster care. Well, thank you for having me. Jeanette Yaffe. I was born in New York, in the 70s. And I stayed with my biological family, my mother and my father. They were married for 15 months, my mother who was pregnant at seven months after I was born, and she had started experiencing significant mental health issues. And my mother was actually in,
in New York City, as on a work visa to be a dancer with the Martha Graham company. At that time, she wasn't dancing, she fell in love with my father had me and then before my brother was born, she felt that she could not care for me. She felt that she could hurt me she was having significant, again, mental health issues. She told the doctor she thought that she would either kill me or hurt me. And then of course, they placed me in the New York State foster care system, I 15 months, she did have my brother who was born, he remained with her for nine months, my mother and father. And then she had a psychotic episode at nine months when he was nine months old. And she was then placed in a hospital for psychiatric care, and then was deported back to Argentina.
So my brother was then placed in another foster home in the Bronx, I'm in a foster home in Long Island. They were trying to figure out what to do with us because our father was confused by the situation. He was not prepared for this. And now having two children in the foster care system, and apparently he never told his family about us. So we were a big secret. And I ended up staying in foster care until I was seven, seven and a half. I had some visits with potential foster and adoptive families. Because the foster family I was living with did not feel that they could care for a child this young, they had two older daughters who are already graduating high school. They were doing this as a mitzvah I was placed through Jewish childcare. And so
as this was happening, there was talk about my brother and I being sent to Argentina to live with family, my aunt and my uncle. But there's a lot of red tape. There's a lot of political strife in Argentina, when a sad is at that time. And also they didn't feel they could parent to children who now have been in the system under the age of three at this point. But this went on for years. And I recently approached the director of Jewish childcare and I said, Can I have my paperwork because I'd like to know what happened in seven years. And I got my paperwork in October 2019. And I'm still reading it. It's five folders of information. And it's hard because I'm still processing this. And what I do now, so I was adopted, I'll get into that later. So I was adopted at the age of seven and a half. And I stayed there until through my adulthood. And I ended up writing a play because I always felt like I couldn't be me. I wrote a play that I decided I wanted to be an actress because I was so good at being other people other than myself. And that led me to become a therapist, because I understood there was so many children in the foster care system that needed a model of mentor and I just said I quit acting. And then I went into psychology and I'm a clinical psychotherapist and I work with children in foster care and adoption here in Los Angeles today. And the name of her play which she can she has now turned she has recorded
It is now available on Amazon. And it's called What's your name? Who's your daddy, a one woman show about growing up in foster care and adoption. And you can find that on Amazon.
Alright, Dan, Dan Hall, can you tell us your connection to foster care? Absolutely. Well, we
are our biological, there was five, five of us.
There, I had a brother that was a year and a half younger than me, and here and a half older. So three of us were placed into foster care back in the 70s, similar to Jeanette. And we were placed into care because my biological mom was, was very sick, she was suffering from brain cancer at the time. So part of being one thing that I've learned being an adoptive dad of six special needs children, is that the best thing you can equip yourself with is, knowing what your limitations are as a person and as a couple. And I'm thankful today that my biological parents put me into foster care. I know, our first home was a very abusive home, I'd be backed up into a corner, often and told that I was nothing but a piece of shit, and I want to mount anything in life. And that kind of became a precursor to, you know, many, many behaviors down the road. And eventually, the halls showed up. And I learned her really how to self market myself at the age of five, I whipped it out, and I started peeing all over the wall, just acting out trying to get myself out of that home. And the next day, the hall showed up, and I was out at age five. So I was there if I was there from age two to five. And I would be adopted by the halls a couple years later, when I was seven years old. And unfortunately, my two brothers would age out of the system. So that that and I would not meet them again, until I was 16. And my biological brother, my older brother, ended up being my best friend in life, you know, we were reunited. And, you know, I got to have that relationship with my biological family. My mom had passed away when I was 11. But I still got to have that relationship. And my, my biological dad is still alive. Both my adoptive parents, Maggie and Jerry Hall have passed my dad just most recently. And,
you know, every day, I'm very thankful for what they gave me in life. You know, I, I listened to your podcast about, you know, how thriving children are made not born. And much of Dr. barbus story just resonated so much with me so much with what what Maggie and Jerry were trying to instill in me growing up. And that, you know, up until about 15 years ago, because of my trauma, I honestly didn't really care about anyone or anything, you know, if somebody had died or passed away, I was like, Oh, well, you know, I and I would have the front of thinking, you know, making people think that I cared, but I couldn't, I just didn't know I didn't have that empathy or that those feelings. So if I didn't even know what to feel, and now with six, six children, my gosh, they, my wife and my, my children have become my biggest teachers in life. So that's kind of where I'm at today. And one quick question, was the were you in the same foster home from two to five or were you around the same one, one single foster home until the hall showed up? Yes. Gotcha. Okay, thank you.
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Alright, so that with that as our background, we want to pick your brains and gain your wisdom. One of the first things I wanted to ask was about the experience the actual experience of being removed from your home and taken from your parents. And I'm going to assume that only Laurie and Laura, were old enough to have memories, since they were I guess, what, around 13 and eight at the time, I'll start with you, Laurie, the you were 13 and had run away and had gone to a friend, somebody at your church to to seek help. And so it was less of a removal. But I imagined that there was still that the idea of going into foster care. What was that like for you? What were the feelings that you had? As as a as a 13? year old? Did you wonder, gosh, if I may, have I opened Pandora's box, or maybe I should not not have done this or what were your
you know, when you're when you're living in such a traumatic time, you literally are just surviving. So I never really thought about foster care. I was just like, you know, my dad said he never done, my brother said he had a gun, they're gonna kill each other. And here I am in this house. And I'm like, I just have to get out of here. So it was that kind of really a survival feeling. I didn't think about how this was all going to turn out. It was, you know, all through my childhood. It's all about surviving. It's all about how am I going to make it to that age? And, you know, how am I going to get out of this system? You know, get out of this child abuse, you know, domestic violence, the, you know, the, the substance and everything. It was all just about surviving and just making it you know, so. So for you, was it more of a relief at that point? Would that be fair to say? Oh, yeah, I was definitely Yeah, I was definitely really. Okay. And it was, it wasn't about like, Oh, you know, can I get a family at that time? You know, it was just kind of, I need to be in safety. I mean, you know, survive, I need to survive. So, okay. So Laura, you're in a different situation, you were both younger. And I assume that that you were physically removed from your parents? What was that experience like? Well, the for when I was younger, it was more of like, both my parents were having troubles with substance. And, I mean, I'm sure there was some mental health going on. But that was more you don't really realize when you're young that know that the other kids don't live like this, you know, and it was just again, it was just survival. It was just, you know, I remember the police coming one time and you know, taking me away because my dad had, you know, punched my mom so badly. She's bleeding all over the place. And, but you don't know the other kids don't experience that. So it was scary. But I just wanted to get out, you know, that it was a relief. It was the, you know, I just need to get, I had this dream when I was seven that I was going to emancipate myself so that I can get away from this danger was just I'm in danger. I need to get out. The okay. That's okay. Now going to you, Laura, you were, I think probably physically remove you were eight. from your standpoint, Laura, what was that experience.
So it's actually really kind of funny looking back on it. So I was in third grade. And the week before I had the biggest crush on one of my classmates and I tackled him on the playground until I kissed him on the cheek, I got a really big Hello for doing that. That's not allowed.
So a couple days later, they put me into the guidance counselor's office and I was there for like five hours. And I knew something was wrong. And I didn't really get in trouble very often. So I thought that this was a continuation of the incident I had a couple days before. And she was really nice to me, which is also asking me these weird questions. And I couldn't figure out what was wrong. And then they call me down to the office and a police officer was standing at the door. And they like being arrested for kissing this boy. He wasn't it wasn't even a good kiss for gracious sex. I shouldn't be arrested for this. And I had no idea and they took me in the back of a cop car. And I and they put the principal next to me. And those are when you're in third grade and you're a goody two shoes and you do nothing wrong. That's the scary of being in the back of a cop car with your principal. Oh, yeah. cops were nothing compared to being and it was your principal. Oh, gosh, that would be horrible. Yeah. So I thought I was like, oh, man, I did not mean to I'm sorry. I'm thinking about going to court.
I have no idea that I'm going into foster care. I thought that this is because I kissed a boy. I go to the police station and hear my mother screaming. I'm like, oh, okay, maybe this is not about me. And no one really told me anything until a couple hours later. When you're going through home to home. Each home. They put you up
To go through a physical and is going through my physical and social worker, I was like, oh, by the way, you're going into foster care. And she said it like it was an exciting thing. You're going to a new family, they're going to have gifts for you. You're not going to see your mom and dad for a little bit. But yeah, you're going into foster care. very confused, still a little traumatized, but also kind of grateful that I wasn't being arrested. Very much still hung up on that. But yeah, I was I was put into a home. And the first one that I was put in, was actually so I broke my arm when I was four. And it was a doctor who repaired my arm. And so I felt a little bit safer. It was one of my dad's coworkers, my dad was also a doctor. And this is the guy who fixed me. So I thought it would be okay. Very quickly learn that it wasn't. But I think that kind of just shows that that you know, that innocence and no one sat me down and explained what was happening. And then the second time around, I was so one of my family's core orders was to for us to go to aftercare every day. And one day at aftercare, I was, it ended at seven and I was still there like 930 at night. And, you know, the aftercare staff was kind of sitting with me and didn't know what to do. When my father, they gave me the phone and my father was on the line. And he said, we're putting you back in the system, what do you want for me to pack and being nine years old and having to have a conversation about what you should pack my suitcase, because I didn't know when I would be home again, was a very terrifying conversation that in the moment, I didn't realize what the impact of that was. But now as an adult, looking back and seeing having a child have that kind of conversation, and that indefiniteness of never knowing when they're going to see their family again, and then being able to kind of just write it off and say, well, she'll be okay. I was kind of the mentality of being in the system. So that was my experience being removed in that those initial moments of not really understanding what was happening and never really being explained. Laura, was there anything that that you can think of now that your foster parents could have done when you were first placed in their home, to help alleviate some of the trauma I mean, they can't obviously, take it away. It's a traumatic event. But were there things that you think of now, either they did, or they didn't do but could have done, that would have made things better for you?
I don't think it was so much on the parents, I think the parents actually most of them did a pretty good job, they usually have dinner, have some sort of blankets, or safe space, sometimes they gave me presents to loan me in. So I don't think it was necessarily on the parents. But I think that there was a communication gap between the social workers or the social workers weren't explaining what was going on. And then I'd be delivered to these families who had assumed that the fostered that the social worker had explained everything. And then there was that gap in communication, and no one wants to be the one the bearer of bad news. And instead of no one telling me the news, I kind of had to figure it out myself to definitely putting that heavy lifting on the social worker to sit down and have a conversation that they're trained to have on what foster care is bringing that down to a child level. And then kind of explaining next steps in a way that maybe foster parents either aren't trained to do or aren't prepared to do in the first place. Well, but from from the standpoint, so, so for the professionals who are listening, yes, obviously, it is something that they should be doing, but from the foster parents who are listening, they should not assume that the child has been filled in and that they need to find out what the child knows, and they need to start sharing. So if the child is giving you information alone would have alleviated some of the confusion if nothing else.
All right. And now I want to talk about with each of you about whether or not you felt included in your foster families? And if so, what made you feel included? And if not, what made you feel excluded? Jeanette, let's start with you.
Well, I was placed at 15 months, and I remained there for six and a half years. I don't remember the beginning part for sure or not the beginning. No, but the day that I left was a very traumatic day for me. My social worker I was in Long Island was coming in from New York City for visits so she would show up at the house in the taxi. So whenever she showed up in the taxi, I didn't know what was going to happen. But this one day when she showed up in a taxi was the day that I was leaving. They put me in my favorite outfit. They packed a suitcase not even telling me what was going on. And then I was told at that moment on the front lawn as I'm doing cartwheels, having a good time. You're going to live with this family now. I screamed bloody murder. The neighbors came out what the heck's going on at genets house, gotten swept up in the subway, in the taxi and then went to my new home. So that was very
tramatic So, living in my foster home, I knew I was. It felt to me like a hotel. I was living there, but my name wasn't on the wall. Like my older sisters were they had the bedspread. They had their name on the wall. I we knew it was their house. I felt not treated the same. And I know, listen, I'm still in touch with my foster family. They help grow me up. They're still a part of my life. I always tell them, I love you. And they were not educated. They didn't understand I used to write my name on my floor with crayons. Why was I doing that? That's all behavior of an unmet need. And I got punished for it. My mother didn't know my foster mom. And I had terrible self esteem. I was the kid on the block with the hand me down clothes. I was looked at different by the neighbors or she's the foster. I mean, you had that sense. I was a kid not invited to the birthday party. She was the kid in foster care. There were stigmas. And there are still stigmas. And I'm a professional now. And I am a mother and I married for 20 years now. And my son has a disability he has hearing loss, which I didn't know that this come from my family is something that happened in utero. And I met his Deaf and Hard of Hearing teacher and she when I told her, I was raised in Foster, she asked me what do you do for a living? I said, Oh, well, I work with children in foster care. I was raised in foster care. She looks at me. so shocked. And so surprised. You were in foster care. Like I should be in a puddle of tears. Like there's something wrong about me like I shouldn't be right. I shouldn't be right, I should be wrong. You should be damn, I should be damaged. Good. So that and this recently happened triggered for me. Wow, my self esteem. So we're gonna struggle our whole lives with not what's wrong with us, with our vulnerabilities to being raised and treated in these ways where we weren't treated as significant, as worthy as our siblings in the home, that for me, it was a big one. Because my self esteem was terribly compromised. I felt very bad about myself. I was stupid, I was wrong. And I kept asking my adoptive family years into my adoption, when are you going to give me away? I just didn't believe it. I just felt like I was just to be thrown away. And I literally saw myself as a piece of garbage. I had to go into therapy at 13 because I almost killed myself. And I was taking pills. Because I I said I can't live like this. We had taken in a foster child with adopted my brother than took in a foster child for three years. And she was having visits with her mother. And I'm thinking,
where's my mother? Why isn't she coming to see me? That again? compromise them self esteem, see how not good enough I'm how I'm not wanted. So having to go on my sister's visits, and then she was reunified with her mother. This is all 11 1213. And when you're a teenager, and this happens, and no one's talking to you, I just sat with myself and said, Wow, I don't think you are meant to be here.
Because your own birth family doesn't want you and wait. I had the second confirmation your own foster family didn't want it. So that's why I'm a therapist. I explain these very difficult, yes, challenging conversations. But kids we need to
understand and accept. They're stronger than you think they are. They're smarter than you think they are. And they actually it helps them make sense. And they're less symptomatic, behaviorally emotionally and psychologically when you tell them what's going on. And just like Laura, she's going in to be the change in the system. I called dcfs here, because when I started working in the field in California,
social workers were telling kids, oh, you're going to go back home. Your mom's doing your case plan. And I said, What are you telling her? You're making promises? So I call dcfs. And I said, Who do I need to talk to to train social workers? Because they don't know. And they need coaching. So I started training, what they don't know. Right? Exactly, exactly. Hey, so there's a lot to do in the system. Amen. on that one. Dan, from what you say you're the foster family that
You were in from two to five was not a good placement. How did you? What were things that they did that made it? Well, the abuse obviously was not good. But I assume that you felt excluded. What were things that they did that made you feel excluded. Really just, you know that that continuous cycle of abuse, I don't think really anybody was included, there were any biological children in that home, there were the three of us and hindsight being 2020.
You know, they honestly didn't feel like they, we were that difficult. I mean, that exclusion was locking us into a room until it was time to eat. My brother, my younger brother was tied down in his crib. And, you know, there's often times where we wouldn't get fed during the day. So exclusion was all that we knew. And
that sometimes when they unlock the door, you would go out, there would be food sitting on the table, you'd be like, oh, something to eat, and then you'd get punished again for stealing food. So
I do remember the days the hall showed up, and I do remember being terrified, terrified that I was going to go going to go from this abusive home to another abusive home, and not find the next meal. So all of that is still fresh in my mind, even the stories that my brother and I used to talk about when we are older. You remember when you were on the stove, and I turned on the burners, you know, years later, we talk about those memories.
So, you know, those exclusions were part of our history and part of our story. And moving on to the halls, it was completely different. For me, it takes some adjusting, when you move there to how did they help you learn to trust? That was one of the things that they didn't, weren't able to teach me. And I wouldn't figure that out until I met my wife, Tina. And we started adopting. I was terrified to adopt, she asked me, you know, do you Would you ever consider fostering and adopting? And I said, heck, no, I wouldn't have I wouldn't want to have to parent a child. Like I was growing up. I didn't want to do that. That terrified me. Yeah, I can understand.
In case you missed it, we recently did a podcast on the impact of fostering on kids already in the family. One listener, Chef Kirby shared this review of the episode. I am so appreciative of your episode on how fostering and adopting can affect other kids in the home. Not enough people are speaking up about this circumstance, and it is one that hits home for me, thank you to get more content that will hit home for you as it did for chef Kirby. Please subscribe and follow creating a family podcast now. Wherever you get your podcast, you will be able to find a subscribe button. And then you will never miss another good episode.
All right, let's talk about one of the things that we often hear is a cause for foster families to stop fostering or to return to child and that is relations with the children that are already in the family, be they through birth or adoption. So I'd like to hear what your experiences were. If you had that experience and in your foster homes, that there were children that already belonged in the home? And how did how did those relationships? How did you navigate those relationships? Laurie, we'll start with you. I don't know in the home you were in were there children already in the home? Yes, they had that two biological sons and then they had a daughter that they adopted as an infant. And then I was a little older than her. But yeah, what Jeanette saying about self worth was like a huge huge struggle like I knew that I wasn't one of them. You know, it was so separate so even though I knew them before I went there it was very obvious they were affluent family I was a poor I was poor kid you know, so it was hard to hard to manage that car right now though. Hard Jesse like he would fit in Yeah, I can see that right that I did I fit in and the I do have a relationship now with one of the biological sons of that family. So but not they're not his parents. So.
Laura, for Laura, for you. You went into it. You had a number of different places.
Let's, I assume some of those had children already in the home. How was how did you navigate and we'll compare it to to make it easier to navigate relationships with new kid coming in, and children who are already there.
I think this goes back to your your exclusion question. So the first home I was in was a very athletic family. And they had five children of their own. And I thought I could kind of, you know, slip my way in there. Each child had their own room, which made it easy for a social worker to assume that there was space for me. But in reality, I was sleeping on two couches and hallway pushed together. And so that was one way where it was very clear that they had beds and I did not another thing that another family that I was in did was I would get their leftovers. So at dinner, they would have you know, warm steak or warm pasta. And then I would sit and watch them eat this fresh meal, and I would get the leftovers the next day. So just that that clear sense of otherness, and going out of their way. They were already cooking a meal, and making sure it was an intentional, making sure that those kids got the meal. I was in one home where I actually did have a relationship with my foster brother, We're the same age, we're in school. And that was exciting. And I really had a great relationship with him, I finally had a friend. And it was when I went to his school with him for a couple of months, it really helped that transition. Unfortunately, though, his family decided to go on vacation, and foster children don't go on vacations. And they told me they were coming back for me and they never did. And so again, those privileges and those, those that false sense of comfort and then being removed from it. And so learning at an early age not to get too attached to anything because you don't know. Yeah, you have no control over. What about being separated from your biological siblings? I can only imagine that that, you know, siblings have been with us for life, therefore, to be separated. It would be so hard. I would just I could only imagine, Jeanette, were you did the family that adopted you when you were seven and a half also adopt your younger brother are, were you separated from him permanently.
So we did not grow up together. I was placed in foster care. 15 months he was placed at nine months, he went to a family in the Bronx, I went to a family on Long Island. They did not reunify us. What happened was when I was six, this, my social worker came and said,
you're going to be your biological brother, his name is Patrick. And we're going to go to Burger King together and you're going to get passports made. And we literally, he came to our house and I'm sick. And I didn't know he existed, because nobody told me I had a pre verbal memory that my birth mother was pregnant because I was 15 months when I saw her pregnant, she was seven months pregnant at the time.
And he comes into the house and we look identical. He's 13 months younger than me, identical. And I still have some PTSD from that moment, because I was standing on top of the stairs, and I almost fell down the stairs. Because I never seen that genetic mirroring or reflection. And it was overwhelming. Nobody prepared me it was just this is what's happening. And this is how it's going to go down and deal with it. And so what happened was we had passports made, and I never saw him again.
Because it was deemed that it was not a good idea for us to we were going to both go on a plane to Argentina and go live with our aunt and uncle. So they were working on a family reunification plan to return us to our biological family, which is fantastic. However, it didn't work out. And that's why we were in the system for so long. He ended up remaining in his home in the Bronx. I ended up remaining in foster care in Long Island and then transitioning to my adoptive placement. So we met, he searched for me for five years. And I get a phone call. And I'm 18 years now actually no, I'm about 21 years old and living in Brooklyn, and I'm planning on moving here to Los Angeles because I'm just fed up with New York. Why? Because I found my birth father. He wants to have nothing to do with me. I called him up. I got a copy of my original birth certificate. And he just hung up on me and that just for me was like an utter rejection. Now I'm 21 I'm just trying to make sense of what happened. And because I heard your I got some information from the adoption agency I call my birth father. He makes up some story and he hangs up on me. I said you know what i'm done with New York.
And then I decided to move press country. And then I said, I'm really going to act, I'm really going to be other people. Because life is telling me not to be you not to explore your own history, not know your own identity. So I'm going to become everyone else's identity, do something else. So my brother called How to his girlfriend call me and left a message on my voicemail and said, I have some personal information for you. And the next day, she called me at the time, she stated, and it wasn't her voice, it was his voice. And here we are, as young adults meeting for the second time in our lives, and going what happened to us because we lived with this ambiguous loss of seeing each other because he remembered meeting me at six years old, and then never seeing each other again. So it's a different form of a loss, but there's attachment is knowing. And then we, literally the when we had our reunion, we went to the park.
And just swaying on swings a little while to just feel like, this is what it would have been like, had we grown up together. So I'm a big, big advocate for keeping siblings together, they need each other, especially when they share this experience. They shouldn't have to be separated and then have to miracle if they find each other as adults. So I do a lot of open adoption with parents and education really, really important. I have trainings on my YouTube channel, how to do open adoption, how to tell your child their difficult adoption or foster care story. So I think it's important to recognize that, that as you point out that separation from a sibling, Dan talked about how things separated from his two brothers was was traumatic. Laura, how about you, you were separated? You have a brother as well. I tell you two were in foster care separately.
What if but talk to us about the the separation? Was there concern on your part? Were you worried about him? Was he worried about you? What were some of the emotions that went with being separated not just from your parents, but from your sibling.
So it's funny, again, being nine years old, and he was four, I was at peak, I hate my brother age. And so at the time, I didn't mind being separated from him. Actually, the reason why we were separated was because he was driving a little car on the side of a coffee table and dropped it and hit his head. And it was the one time the one time I had nothing to do this injuries, I was really, I was really mean to him.
This is a one time I had nothing to do that with that. But his head was gushing, I was the only person in the room. And I knew I was in big trouble. And there's nothing that I could say, I knew I didn't do it. But I mean, I looked guilty as heck. And so they determined that I was a danger to him and separated us immediately. And, you know, the stuff that he went through, he was in key developmental ages. And so the stuff that he went through, he was forced bed, he watched his foster parents have sex in front of him. And the PTSD came in waves, because he didn't understand and totally process everything. So he didn't even realize that his foster parents are having sex in front of them until he learned what sex was much later. And when those two things kind of hit, he went through another cycle. And there, my brother and I are still very much in the process of trying to rebuild our relationship. He didn't graduate high school until he was 19, almost 20 years old. Now he's very much got his life together, he actually just transferred here to 4.0 at the University of San Francisco, is now transferring to Northwestern University to finish his undergraduate degree is hoping to go to med school. But similar to me, I'm more severe, he was definitely more on path to end up in prison than any sort of college or any sort of being able to even live independently. And because of that, our relationship was severely fractured. Because what he had gone through and his ability to articulate and the way that he acted out, it was very, it was very divided, especially being reunified with our parents, I was actually put back with my parents a month and a half beforehand. And so again, the signaling that that sent to him, and there was probably a little, a little bit of latent resentment at the end of and understand, and kind of I was always kind of, okay. And then in the grand scheme of things, I was okay, coming out of this system, and there was a clear difference between the two of us, and so our paths were very different coming out. Gotcha. Okay, that makes sense. When one of you mentioned the term and I liked it, it's very apt. And that was you became adept at marketing yourself. And I want to explore that a little further with each of you.
Laurie, I'm not sure it's relevant to you because I don't I would assume that that you said you
I don't know that you wanted to be adopted.
I know I actually I did want to be adopted. But it was an I was my way of dealing with the trauma in my brain was I'm going to be the best little girl ever, and somebody will eventually want me, right. And I was trying to be like, the biological kids in that family. And, you know, be be as smart as them and be as responsible as them do all my jobs. You know, I'm gonna be thin and pretty, and all this stuff. And it wasn't enough it was that's where the self worth comes from. They're like, No, we still don't want to adapt to you, you know? Oh, no, you're still going to get different gifts. And so yeah, I can I can relate to marketing myself, I just thought I'm going to be get the best grades gonna, you know, I was a musician. So I'm going to sing, I'm gonna get all the scholarships, and this, you know, the, the solos, and it just was never enough. And so it was like, wow, no matter even at me, and my best, I still wasn't good enough to be adopted. And so when going in as a foster parent, myself, I was so hyper vigilant to being a foster kid, that I was, you know, I'm like, I, my, my, my now son was probably like, how does she know all this? You know, because I lived at the end of the week, he had, I had a family photo on the wall with him in it, you know, and he, you know, we built a dresser. I mean, I just knew, like, you have your own space to put your, your clothes, and he just was over the moon over that stuff. And it was like, how does she know? How does she know? How to do that? Because those things mean so much, you know, just
to belong and to, you know, for to be like just for you to you know, instead of, you know, yeah. Oh, absolutely. And when we come at the end, we're going to be giving tips for foster parents. And that will be number one that put the picture on the wall, and space for yourself. Excellent. Dan, did you you I think may have been the one who did you feel like you had to market yourself to the halls, your parents to become adopted to be worthy of adopted or as, as Laurie said, to be good enough to be adopted? Was that part of your mentality?
That was originally part of my mentality, trying to get the halls to get me the heck out of that home? You know, you know, you know, whipping it out and peeing on the wall was was my way of acting out. And I've trained over 400, inbound, foster parents and talk to hundreds of social workers. And I think what will Laurie was describing was the dimples and eyelashes effect. You know, I've just tried to two kids come in, and they and they put on that you get that honeymoon period with them. But, you know, I never really felt like, I had to market myself with the halls. They,
they saw me for who I was not what they wanted me to be. They found that passion inside of me when I was eight, with writing computer software. And, you know, back in the 70s, in Vermont,
you didn't have those resources. And I don't think anybody really had the resources that are out there today, you know, and great shows, like creating a family to to help you, you know, get through these these times. But I never felt
like I had to
work hard for them to love me or to even consider adopting me. I was a holy tear. They helped me find my passion. They helped me find what my curiosity was. And by getting me into writing software, if you talk about chaos, breeding system success, writing computer software is a progression of failure, which ultimately leads to figuring something out. So that's what I had to help me realize that failure is not a bad thing. So I never really went down that path of not feeling like I was ever going to be adopted or one and by the halls. It just took them a while to figure out and help me figure out who I was. Well, what a beautiful testament to May we all be blessed in this life to have our children say things like that about us. That's That's a beautiful brings tears to my eyes. Laura, you were the only one of our group here that re was reunified with their birth family. Was that a feeling of huge relief? Was it a feeling of trepidation? What was and how well, were you prepared in advance for reunification?
So a lot of my research is on school to prison pipeline in the foster care deposit pipeline and kind of trying to understanding what are specific. I mean, overall, the foster care system is complicated, and there's a lot wrong with it. And so what's one way that I can interject? They actually think that the transition part was is is a key time being reunified when you know that a child is going to be reunified, and where the system not only failed me, but really led me onto the path of not going to be able to get through high school and college. One of our parents, my parents, so our communication was always part of the plan. And one of my, one of the core orders is that my parents moved to a brand new town in foster care for two years, moved to New Town, I got home, no one told me that I was going home the first time. And I, you know, got to see my my bed for the first time in over a year and the foster excuse me, the social worker said, how would you like to stay home and I was so excited. And then the next morning, I was required to be in school at 9am. The next day, having been with my parents for less than 12 hours, all I wanted to do is to talk to them, and I couldn't hide to go back to school, I had all of the trauma of foster care. And on top of that I was in middle school. So you know, buck teeth and didn't know how to brush my hair, my clothes are awful, and I was the new kid. And that all of that plus the the inability to relate with adults and having a really hard time challenging authority. That was when you really saw the trajectory of not being able to get through school because while I was great at school and got all A's, social, emotionally, I was I was terrible. And I would talk back and I'd start fights with kids. And if you looked at me the wrong way, I'd start something on the playground. And I didn't have teachers that knew how to handle that I came from a community where there were no foster children was in a community that didn't know how to handle me, I was very clearly different. And I didn't have a lot of mentors and people in place that helped kind of, you know, settle down and be able to talk about the trauma. My parents didn't want to talk about it. I was too young to know how to articulate and come to a space to advocate for myself. And so one of the things that I'm most passionate about is requiring a mandatory transition period where children coming out of the system have min Satori, therapy, even some sort of sibling reunification conversation, even like foster care, like social groups where children in foster carers coming together it's very rare that you have four former foster is being able to talk about their story and and understand that there's an other side and even having that connection instead of just being the person who's different and being unique. Just being with similar children who who you don't have to share your story. You just know what happened. And you can kind of just find that peacefulness and not having to talk about it. But just know that you're, you're in a safe space. Yeah, that not having to lay the groundwork of your story, that feeling of I think that is so important. I really do. And you're correct. We don't have enough of that for, certainly, for former foster youth, but even for youth within the system, although there's there's more I think
this show, as I say often times could not and would not happen without the support of our partners. And I say it oftentimes because it is so absolutely true. One such partner is adoption from the heart. They were founded by an adoptee and they are celebrating 35 years of bringing families together through adoption. They are a full service, domestic infant adoption agency specializing in open adoptions. You can see adoptive parents and birth parents share their stories on their TV channel, which is a Facebook TV channel and it is a f t h TV. They air on Tuesday mornings, you can follow adoption from the heart on Facebook and YouTube to catch every episode
of wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about tips for foster parents. So I want you to put your hats on. If you could talk to either some of the foster parents you had or in some of you are involved actively in talking with other foster parents. But what would you tell foster parents that they could do either at the beginning or throughout their fostering time with the child to make it easier for that child to make it less traumatic? And they're not going to take the trauma away? I mean, that's that thing and then but what could they do to make it less hard? The first one and Laurie, I'm gonna let you you're going to say the second one too. But the first one, she said which I loved was to make certain that you take pictures and that child's picture is on the wall too. So that that they look around and they see that they also are included in that sense. Laurie, do you have another one it would fit to start off and then we'll move on. Okay, I guess I when I hear a lot of foster parents talking
They're all like, we're gonna have this rule, we're gonna have that rule, they're gonna, you know, you have to do this and do that. And, like, that's just so overwhelming as the kid, like, you know, here, you know, your life is dumped upside down, and, and then they're like, got all these rules in front of them. I just, I don't know, I just don't i don't think that's kind of a welcoming thing. And, you know, I would you know, for our own kids, we just, you know, we have pizza night, I mean, you know, and it's very casual. It's not like, you know, you get a tour of the house, but just kind of just existing just, you know, being given, you know, the quiet space or whatever is kind of where I was at. So, do I would so with with Yeah, Lister expectation? Yeah, thanks. Yeah, that's probably a good one, too. All right. Dan, how about you? Can you suggest a tip for foster parents? Or a couple of tips? Either one? Yeah, absolutely. So my son was two and I used to yell and scream at him. Because I didn't understand what Fetal Alcohol effects was at the time. And I remember that day, my wife turned around to me and said, You need to stop. You need to listen with more than just your ears, to what his needs are.
And, you know, sign language is such a powerful thing. It doesn't matter if you just learn the basics, like please, and thank you and more.
We started teaching Isaiah sign language. And it was the first time I could actually communicate with him. Because I was, you know, he was number four for us. And I was still trying to deal with my trauma, you know, from being being a child. So my outbursts were now sparked by him, and not being able to regulate myself, let alone regulate him. And now, if you fast forward, my wife is just a, she has this way of reaching into your soul, and bringing out the best in you and finding those
perfect, positive things to focus on, instead of just folk dwelling on the negative. So every night, before our kids lay their heads down, we always ask them what's tomorrow.
And they'll say it's a new day. And we'll say it's a new day for what. And they'll say it's a new day, to have the best day ever. And that teaches forgiveness, it means that we're going to leave behind all the crap that happened during the day, I may have had an off day, they may have had an off day, but that level of forgiveness,
to allow them to lay their heads down. And just let things go is such a powerful thing. And it's such an easy thing to do. You don't even have to do that with with your your foster adoptive children. Just do it with your children. And that's a good parenting tip. Every summer growing up regardless. Yeah, yeah, Jeanette, how about you tips for foster parents to make it an easier transition and make them alleviate at least some of the trauma while they're in foster care? Yeah, so first thing I want to say my youtube channel
totally has a lot of videos over 100 videos now on major tips for foster and adoptive families. I call it Jeanette eckley, genetically speaking about foster care, adoption and mental health. So one of my big tips is just like Dan was pointing to a be an attachment focused parent. Because to parent a child who's experienced trauma, you can't parent them like other children, they have not more issues or more problems, they have more vulnerabilities. So what happens for parents is that they see them as other as same as other kids. And they think developmentally they're on track. But really, if you step back the next time you see your child acting out, step back and just be an owl. Observe, watch and listen, what age Am I seeing, because psychologically and emotionally, they're much younger. And we don't have the skill set to know how to cope in our experiences of what happened to us, because no one was there intervening at that time. So we're coming into foster homes with lack of skill sets. We don't understand our own emotions, we don't know how to communicate our emotions. So being attachment focus is crucial. Focusing on the relationship and separating the child from their behavior. See the child first as a child who's struggling. This is a huge trend.
addition, there emotional, accepting all of these pieces. I'm doing an upcoming training 10 skills. an adoptee wants parents to know. And one of them is the shame, which briefly, is helping separate the child from whatever behavior is overwhelming is reactive. So the shame, which is the bread on the bottom, we tell the child we love you, we, you're important you matter, then the pickle the lettuce, tomato, on the inside of the sandwich, you put the emphasis on that. We don't like to throw cellphones in our house, that's not okay. And then the bread on top is your Okay, we love you, you matter, you're important to us, a lot of we and us in the conversation, and just helping point them out that you're still a good person. And let's work on this piece. We're going to figure this out together. Because that helps. We feel very alone in foster care, the helplessness, the hopelessness, we don't know how to fix ourselves. We don't know how to fix these parts and pieces that are emotionally overwhelming. Yes, we're going to react because we don't know any other way. It's not that we won't behave. We can't behave like other kids my age. Yeah, that those would be my brief tips. And there's many more.
All right, Laura, you'll get the final word here. What would you say to foster parents, that they can do practical things that they can do to make it easier for the foster children in their home?
Well, I think the first is systemically making sure that we have a foster care family system that's representative who's in the system, you, statistically speaking, you perform well when you're with people who look like you. And so the majority of the system is white foster parents was not white children. And so that clash already in that sense of otherness, just on its face is very clear. So that's kind of an overarching theme to be mindful of. But also just day to day, one kind of similar to what Janet was saying is giving them language to articulate how they're feeling and advocating for themselves. And children don't just tantrum for the sake of tantruming. It's because they don't have the words to be able to articulate what's wrong and what they need. And so being able, instead of yelling at them, which is very easy to do, but kind of saying, I see you're upset, I see you're crying, naming how they're feeling, telling them how to work through that giving them sentence starters to say, I need this, please leave me alone, those simple phrases, and introducing that that self coping that most foster children don't have, it can be a life changer for them. And then finally, just having consistency, a foster child doesn't know what their next day looks like, nonetheless, if they're going to be with you in the next week. And so having having a clear schedule, that being very consistent, also talking to the child and including them and what's going on, again, children understand they're smart, they see what's going on, and so you operating over them. And when they're in a world where they very much feel like it's it's us against them, mentality, it's very important for them to be communicated to and have that consistency. And if there's something that's inconsistent are different talking to the child and say, Hey, today we're doing this, we're doing this because having rationale behind what you're doing creates that safe space, that a child is able to be a little bit more flexible in an environment that's not really catered for them. Such good points. And I wanted to just say, stress one, again, that you said and that is provide consistency and routine. When a child comes to you as a foster child, their life, by definition has been chaotic. And they don't this is new, everything is different. And one of the best things you can do. Even if you're not a routine person, even if you're a person who loves spontaneity, at least for a time, try to set up predictability so that the child starts feeling safe. So I just can't stress that enough. And, and and if you truly are feeling chafing at that routine, you can start loosening it some after after a while, although honestly most people start especially if you have more than one child, you start actually liking the routine. Before I thank you each let me point out that there is one voice we did not hear in our panel today. And I want to mention it because I think it's important we had hoped to have somebody who was representing this and they were unable to attend. But the you know the the voice of someone who believes in it and that they were removed in accurately that they were taken from their family and that in fact more should have been done to help their their family stay together and that perhaps for no reason at all are for too small of a reason. They were removed from their family and that there is
Absolutely, that experience in the world in foster care for sure. And for the end the world of former foster youth, and we don't hear from them as much. And so I just want to point out that for everyone who is listening to give some thought to that, that, how would their your experience be that if you believe that, in fact, you should never have been removed from your family, and that you should never have had this trauma and that the trauma you experienced is really directly related to the system itself. And I think that that is a voice that that we also need to pay attention to. So just wanted to throw that out there. Thank you. Lori Simon aura singer Jeanette Yaffe and Dan Hall, thank you so much for sharing your experience and so that the rest of us can learn and I hope and pray that what this will mean is that we are doing a better job for the current kids who are coming up in foster care. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you, and for all of our audience. Thanks for being with us today and I will see you next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai