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'I am a foster child'

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000

Editor's note: Following are excerpts from a speech given by Carrie, 14, who has lived in 20 foster homes since she was 3. Carrie, whose story appears today on Page 1D, made the presentation at a meeting of the Junior League of St. Petersburg last fall. The Junior League subsequently voted to support the Family Visitation House for foster children and their families.

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"Hello, my name is Carrie. I am a foster child. That means that I am in the custody of the state because my parents were not able to take care of me. My siblings and I have been in foster care for 11 long years. I have been told about what you are trying to do to help children and families. I think it is wonderful that you are attempting to build a safe place for foster children to have visits with their parents and siblings. Children who are put in foster homes don't understand why they have been taken out of their (own) home. They blame themselves and the system. Not only do they get removed from their homes, but also they often don't get to see their parents until several weeks after they are removed.

"You can't imagine how much this hurts a child. Often when children are taken out of their home they are also separated from their sisters and brothers; this makes the situation even more painful. After separation, foster children tell themselves that their parents were good and that they were the ones to blame. They believe that if they are very good, they will go home and their parents will not hurt them again.

"It's important to tell foster children immediately that the abuse or neglect was not their fault and to explain to them that their parents are the ones who have the problem and are getting help. When foster children don't see their parents for a long time, all these feelings will probably not get talked about, and the foster child will keep them to him or herself. Visits need to take place immediately and privately. When you go to see your family in a public place, like the park or McDonald's, you don't want to talk about your feelings because there are a lot of strangers around. It can sometimes be awkward and humiliating.

"Another problem with the system is that foster children only get one visit a month with their family because that is all the caseworkers have time for. Foster parents have many kids in their homes, and they can't have parents visiting every night of the week for each child. That would only cause problems because what if a child didn't have parents to visit? That could create jealousy and hurt feelings.

"When a child is removed from their home, their sense of normalcy is gone. Having routine visits in a familiar place would help to restore it. Perhaps you're wondering why parents who abuse or neglect their children deserve to have visits. Well, the answer to that question is in most cases the parents do love their children; they are simply unable to deal appropriately with their own frustration and anger.

"They usually feel bad about what they have done and would like a good relationship with their child. They need to see, just like any other parent, that their children are safe and well. This visitation house would make that possible. A physiological and emotional bond with their parents is essential for a child's well-being and self-esteem. A visitation house would enable children and families to have more compassionate, loving and frequent visits. Parents could receive helpful insight to why they abused or neglected their children. Also, how miraculous and marvelous their children are.

"I represent foster children, and I would like to be a voice for all those foster children who cannot be here. We need the community to help navigate the system in helping children get reunited with their parents. We desperately need a visitation house. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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