We have opportunities, throughout our lives, to learn how the world works, how to navigate relationships, how to treat others, how to get what we want, and how to get where we want to be. Some of these lessons are positive and helpful, some we would rather avoid all together, but all are important. As I reflect over my time in foster care I am reminded of the lessons I learned during those 6 years of my life, and I recognize how these important moments and opportunities still impact my life, today. The lessons I learned in foster care shape my world. At times, the lessons I learned as a teenager in care provide more clarity for me than any other lesson I’ve picked up on my journey through life. I hope to be an example of these truths and I want to demonstrate for all those whose lives I touch that there is always a lesson in every circumstance. What is most important is for us to incorporate those lessons, to internalize those lessons, to learn from them how to impact the world for better…to grow through the circumstance. Perhaps, that is the biggest lesson I learned in foster care. I have a choice. I can learn from this and grow and improve and be better, or, I can let life run me over with the circumstances, choosing to ignore the lessons, and hand over my control. I have a choice.
From foster care, I learned to:
1) Be honest.
Lies. From the very beginning there were lies. Little white lies. Insignificant lies. Lies, nonetheless. Lies I will never forget. After being interviewed at school, sent home on the bus (knowing all the secrets I’d just shared and fearful of what would happen when or if my father found out), I watched my mother answer the phone call that would forever change my life. I remember riding in the back seat of our black Lincoln Town Car to the office where the social worker and detective were waiting and listening to my father’s instructions of how to lie my way out of this – by telling them I’d lied about everything. I remember being told “Come with us, we have just a few more questions.” before being led down the hall to a big room, where I was told to “Wait here.” as I looked out the window and watched my parents drive away. A lie. There were no more questions. It was a coward’s way of removing me from my parents. No good-bye, no explanation, no promises or assurances of what would come. Over the next six years, I’d be told “it will all be okay”, “they’re doing all they can”, “he is in counseling, getting help”, “you can stay here as long as you need to”, “we’ll be your family”, “we’ll help you get on your feet” and so on. All lies. Unintentional? Sure. Hurtful? Yep. So, I learned in foster care to always be honest because lies can cause a sting that sticks around for a good long time.
2) Be committed.
Placements. The “s” on the end of that word says it all. Commitment in foster care is almost a joke. I was in a total of 10 different homes/shelters during my 6 years in care and I can remember each and every one of them, the move in and the move out, who I connected with and where I always felt out of place. Something about every single placement sticks with me. I also remember that about 2 years was max-capacity for those relationships. From the emergency foster home, where I stayed just that first night, to the relative placement who said I had to move because she didn’t want me “making it up” about her husband, to the shelter staff who so positively impacted my whole world, to the one foster home that really wanted me but knew I was too afraid of commitment to let them in all the way – every one of them taught me something about commitment. Today, I’m incredibly grateful and blessed to have found true commitments in marriage, friendships, an extended family, and even, in my work. In foster care, I learned commitment is scary and something to be avoided, but I also learned I needed it. Finding real commitment is way more rewarding and enjoyable. Continue reading Serena’s post on her blog.
Serena L. Hanson, LMSW is an alumni of the foster care system in Kansas. After years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in the home of her parents, she was placed into the child welfare system at the age of 12 and spent the next 6 years in care, experiencing 10 moves during that time. Serena was never reintegrated into her home and was never made legally available for adoption. She aged out of the fsoter care system to a life of independence at 18 years old. Serena went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Family Counseling from Barclay College and a Master’s degree in Social Work from Newman University. Almost immediately after aging out of foster care, Serena married her high school sweetheart and began working in child welfare and giving back to the system that dramatically impacted her life.
Serena operates, independently, as a Child Welfare Consultant and Trainer and is an experienced motivational speaker, workshop and seminar facilitator, resource family developer, program administrator and advocate. She is also currently a Community Adjunct Faculty with the University of Oklahoma Anne & Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. She and her husband, Justin, currently live in Norman, OK with their four children – two boys, Shawn and Derek, ages 14 and 12 and two girls, Chloe and Sarah, ages 10 and 8, but they are moving home to Kansas in the coming weeks.
Connect with Serena online at www.whenfostercaregoesright.com