Diana is part of LSNJ's reunified youth foster project. The project encourages and promotes former foster youth perspectives, in an effort to empower both youth and parents in the child welfare system. She shared her story (below) with LSNJ as part of the national Reunification Month celebration. She also offered comments in a video (above) about the importance of visitation during Covid-19.
I was about 7 years old when the child-welfare agency came into my life. My father was struggling with alcoholism. His trigger to drink was money problems. He would take his anger out on my mother when she could not provide money to pay the bills. My mother was stuck in domestic violence. My father's anger eventually escalated towards me. My mother did what any mother would do to protect her children in any way possible. She wrote bad checks to protect her children from the violence. This led to her incarceration.
It's hard to recall the exact moment when I was removed but all I remember was my father being very intoxicated and the cops showing up. My sister and I moved from one stranger family home to another at least two times. If I didn't have my sister with me, I think it would have been much scarier moving from home to home. My sister was a piece of my real home that I could hold on to.
Living in Temporary Homes
Every family we moved in with was very kind and meant well. But in my heart, I knew I wasn't home. I remember a family wanted us to call them "mom and dad" right away, which was very confusing for a 7 year old child. I also remember a time when one of these families would make us stand in time out and apologize to god. My sister remembers an incident when she was being put in a guest room for long periods of time as a punishment. I do believe these families meant well, but those situations did not make us feel safer. It made us miss our family more.
Finding A Sense of Stability
I did have one amazing resource home. Teresa and her husband Mark were just that... amazing. My sister and I instantly clicked with them. They were not strangers for long, but our second parents. They were so welcoming. They had two sons somewhat close to our age, and we were treated like family. We had our own chores to do, and were not treated like guests. It was like we were living in a home we could call our own. And I think that's important because moving from home to home can make you question if anything is truly yours. But Teresa took all that uncertainty away and gave us stability. We should have more "Teresas" in this world.
Knowing Family is Best
I recently learned that there was talk of adoption during our time with Teresa without our knowledge. Even though she was absolutely amazing, I think every effort should be put towards reunification with the parents, which luckily happened with us. I think it should be emphasized that foster care should only be temporary for children. At the end of the day, home is what is best for the child. Sometimes kids are adopted and do not return home. Sometimes they age out of the system, and that might not be the best outcome for them in the long run. I feel extremely blessed for my time spent with Teresa and her effort to get us back home.I don't really remember going to court or being asked what I wanted. But I found this note that I actually wrote to the judge on March 3rd, 2007 that said :
I want to write to you about my feelings with my mom and dad. I love them both but I feel safer with my mom. I don't feel safe with my dad when he drinks. So I would rather stay with Mark and Teresa until my mom gets out of jail. I hope you can do that."
So even though I was very happy with Mark and Teresa, I knew at the end of the day, I wanted to be back with my parents and would never want to be adopted. I also wish that my dad was better supported.
Maintaining Family Ties
My mom is my best friend. So no matter where I saw her, I was happy just to be with her. I remember visiting her in prison, and I was never afraid to visit her there. I just wanted to see her. I think it's important for courts to support visitation especially with incarcerated parents because not only does it make the child happy but it also reminds the incarcerated parent what they are living for. It's their motivation for bettering themselves.
Helping Instead of Dividing
My dad is also my best friend. At the time this happened, he was struggling with alcoholism. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could go back in time and talk to him more and be there for him more. He obviously needed help, and I wish I could've given that to him. And I think being taken away from him only made his addiction and struggles worse because we were all he had left. But he was not a bad father. My dad called the child welfare agency for help because we were struggling with housing and finances. But instead of getting help, we were removed. I was taken away from my family because we were struggling with housing and finances. That should be fixed so families who struggle are supported.
Realizing that Everyone is Human
There is always the question of "What if…" What if my mom could have called the agency and ask for financial help without any repercussions? Could that have helped with the domestic violence and avoided her being incarcerated? What if my dad was helped with rent? Maybe I wouldn't have been in the foster care system at all. I also think it is important to remind ourselves that everyone is human. No one is perfect and people can change. There is no such thing as a perfect parent and no handbook that comes with being one. We shouldn't judge parents by the complaints on paper or solely on what the agency says about them. I can assure you in my case, my parents are much better than the complaints that were held against them.
I am now a senior psychology major at Cabrini University and graduating this May. I made the Dean's List this past semester during my soccer season with a 3.83 GPA while also being the leading scorer on my soccer team and helping us win the Conference Championship Title. I want to emphasize how beneficial sports can be to a child who has gone through something like what I have been through. Soccer saved me, helped me get into college and gave me so many skills that helped me throughout school, college, and life. In the future, I hope to go to grad school to get my Master's in Psychology. My dream is to be an advocate for children like me. I want my story and other children's stories to be heard. I want other children to know they can overcome adversity. At times I questioned myself " Can a child like me do this?" At times, I wished I had someone I could relate to, someone who knows what it's like and how hard it is. I want to be that person for children like me.