Foster Care and Mental Health
During the month of May, we raise awareness for National Foster Care Month and Mental Health Awareness Week. I can’t help but think that there is no coincidence these two major issues share the same month. They also share a place in my heart, which has formed who I am today and why I do what I do. To honor these two important issues, I am sharing my story. My intent is to show how these issues intersect and impact one another, and how everyone can play a role in a child’s success, much like those people who impacted my life.
When I was four years old, I remember being removed from my home with my younger sister, who was three years old at the time. We were taken to an office with cubicles and waited, for what seemed like hours, until I was taken to a foster home. Finally, my younger sister joined me and we continued to be in that home for five months. We were then placed in a foster home where my older sister had already been placed. After living for a while in a very small house, my foster mother was able to get a larger house to rent. She was a single mother working as a custodian for Head Start Preschool Services and she was very kind and loving. It wasn’t until I was seven that I understood why we were in foster care, and why visits with our dad had to be monitored. I discovered that our birth mother had died from an overdose of her long-time drug addiction and our father was “unfit” due to his own substance abuse issues. We continued to do visits with our father while he continued to promise that he was doing everything the courts asked. We did this for another seven years before my foster mom was able to become our legal guardian. My foster mother, who we now called “mom,” had lost three children through miscarriages and at child birth. She always said she lost three babies, but that God gave her my sisters and me as her angels.
Everyone Can Make a Difference
If it had not been for mental health services, I would have continued down a path of poor coping and been unhappily married and not able to be an effective therapist. If I had not been embraced, along with my siblings in a safe and supportive foster home, not only would my story have been more tragic, but I would have had significantly more trauma, fewer trusting relationships and lower academic success. These are all challenges that foster youth today face without consistent mental health services, family support, stability and love from caregivers. I believe that it takes a special person to be a foster parent, but everyone can play a role in helping foster youth.
I encourage foster parents to keep planting the seeds of love and nurture healing as my mother did. I hope my story helps others to understand that past experiences do not define you. I hope I inspire others to play a role in the life of children in foster care. Please consider becoming a foster or adoptive parent to a child who needs stability and a loving home. Call 888-346-9645 or email email@example.com.
Dakota Westlake, Mental Health Therapist Intern
Dakota began her work at Trinity two years ago as a Foster Care Social Worker and before that, she worked in various capacities in the mental health field. Dakota understands what being in foster care is like, having been a child in foster care herself. She was raised by a loving resource parent and successfully broke the cycle of her past through the support of friends, family and services like those provided by Trinity Youth Services. Dakota hopes to inspire others to play an active role in the lives of children in foster care and hopes to help foster youth understand that their past experiences do not define them.