Don't Prejudge Teens in Care

Venetta Dent
October 29, 2001

People have the wrong idea about children and young adults in the foster care system. Most people feel that the youth in foster care are troubled, hardened, aggressive, delinquent, irresponsible, and, in some aspects, dangerous.

In the past I would have agreed with these stereotypical beliefs. However, three years ago my negative perception was altered when I found myself living within the same system I prejudged.

At the age of three, I was left to deal with the perplexity of not knowing or living with my biological parents. My biological mother and father died for reasons that are still unclear to me. I was left in the custody of my father's ex-wife. I lived with her and her three older children. For years I grew up in a household where I felt uncomfortable and not completely accepted.

My family was not supportive of the goals I wanted to set for my life. I wanted to do more with my life, including graduating from high school, going to college, and having a job.

After years of being mistreated, isolated, and alienated, I left home at the age of 15. 1 knew in my heart that it was in my best interest to seek aid and support elsewhere. Thus, I ended up in the foster care system. This was the best decision I could have made because it gave me an opportunity to live with a supportive and motivating caregiver.

Through all the challenges I have faced, I made it my duty to continue to succeed. I wanted to be surrounded by peers who had similar goals and agendas. In the homes that I have lived, I have had the blessing to meet others who have shared similar experiences and have had the desire to live healthy and productive lives. Many of them attend school, are working, and are aspiring to live independently. I realize that foster care will not change who I am, but it is up to me to help change the stereotypical perspectives.

Foster care has changed the way I view life in general, and the way that life can be lived apart from one's biological family. I am comfortable with the fact that I was able to accomplish all that I did, namely graduating high school early, being a leader, youth activist, and role model for my peers in my community, and attending college while in foster care. I am now a second-semester freshman at Bard College, a four-year liberal arts school.

There are more youth in foster care who are hardworking, dedicated, and determined, but because of stereotypes they go unnoticed. The public should know that youth in foster care are striving to become successful and productive. They should know that it takes the support of the public alongside the caseworkers to positively influence their lives.

 


Venetta Dent, 18, was a 1999 prize winner in the Child Welfare Fund Awards for Youth in Foster Care contest in New York. Order a copy of the book from Foster Care Youth United.

Copyright 2001 Youth Communication. Reprinted with permission.


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