Written by Washington Foster Team
“I didn't want anyone else to find out because I didn't want to be that one person whose family didn't want them.” — Amber
It’s hard to imagine what goes on in the mind of a child when everything they know — their family, their home, their routine — is ripped away from them. When Amber was a child, that’s exactly what happened to her and her younger brother.
As they bounced back and forth between schools and homes, they wondered when they might see their mother again and if being taken away was somehow their fault.
In the end, it was an aunt who stepped in and showed them what a loving home looked like and taught them how to forgive and heal.
Leaving Home And Losing More
“I had my family taken away along with everything that felt like home, whether that was food that we ate or the smells of my own bed or a stuffed animal. On top of that, to be placed into the home of a total stranger was terrifying.” — Amber
Following allegations of neglect and abuse, Amber and her brother were removed from their home when she was just six and he was only three. They were able to remain together at their first foster placement, but it didn’t last. Soon, they were separated and placed in different homes.
Sibling separation is unfortunately common in foster care, where many foster parents aren’t able to commit to taking care of more than one child. The result can be devastating for children whose only sense of home exists in the companionship of a sibling.
Forced to move, Amber felt increasingly isolated. She didn’t recognize her peers, she lost her friends, and she was embarrassed about her situation. She didn’t want other kids to know she was in foster care, so she withdrew and she wondered when someone would explain why all of this was happening to her.
Being Afraid To Ask For Help
“A lot of the times when youth are in foster care, they blame themselves for the problem. And when no one comes alongside you and actually talks to you about it, you continue to have just that self-blame.” — Amber
As Amber reflected on the events leading up to leaving home, she couldn’t help but feel partially responsible. Even though she was a young child, she knew things at home were off. They weren’t safe. So she told adults how she felt, hoping to get help.
Her cries for help eventually trickled back to her mother’s abusive partner, resulting in more abuse. In foster care, the experience made Amber uneasy about asking for any kind of help, worried that it might get her in trouble. Even simple requests, like asking for socks, was too scary for Amber to consider. So she stayed quiet and continued wondering if she was to blame for her own situation.
Learning To Trust Again
“I had to have routine and she had to earn my trust, which she did by just consistently showing up for me.” — Amber
Amber’s third foster care placement was not with a total stranger, but with an aunt. At her aunt’s, she was reunited with her brother. Together, they began to heal with help from their aunt. For the first time in her life, Amber found an adult who took the time to sit down and explain things to her.
“She gave me space if I needed it, and talked me through stuff. She was the person who talked to me about my parents. The social workers didn't,” says Amber. In the end, it didn’t matter that Amber was placed with a relative but that she was placed with someone who knew how to support her.
Despite multiple attempts to connect, Amber’s mother never showed up to any planned visits. Ultimately, she relinquished her rights and Amber’s aunt adopted her and her brother.
By the time Amber was 16, she was ready to forgive her mother. “I think I was just tired of being angry,” she recalls. Plus, her aunt had helped her view her mother’s situation in a new light.
“She very much made my mom a present person as much as she could and didn't make her out to be the bad guy. And I so appreciate that. I think that's what helped lead me to forgiveness,” says Amber.
At 18, Amber aged out of the system, followed by her brother a few years later. Today, she’s a social worker for Hand in Hand, a non-profit based in Everett, WA, that supports foster families.
Even though it’s been two decades since she entered the system, she still sees many of the same problems she experienced as a child. To combat those, Amber has advice for foster families.
She says to be curious about their personal lives, be present with them, and, above all “just listen,” says Amber. With that, foster parents can build the sort of trust that ultimately gave Amber back a sense of home. “I'm the person that I am today because of what I experienced. But also because I had that consistent adult in my life.”
Learn more about reunification and why it’s so important for foster children by reading our free guide, Reunify And Thrive: Why Reunification Is Critical To Foster Care.