Article: Fostering Resources (Inspired by Woodhull’s ‘The Sexual Wellness of Foster Youth’ ft. Ducky DooLittle)

When I was younger I used to go on a lot of ‘caravan holidays’ – Little retreats where my nan would take me to a cosy little part of the British countryside and do much the same as we did at home except with more arcades, more karaoke, and a general change of scenery.

It was on one of these caravan journeys that I met what I then thought was my new best friend. As soon as we met each other we instantly clicked. Our quirks were the same, our sense of curious adventure, and our love of wildlife.

I had brought a voice recorder with me, which you slotted a cassette in to before starting your recording and then rewinding it to see the result. We used to do this for hours – recording our thoughts, rewinding them, and giggling at how odd it was to hear ourselves. Sometimes we even attempted karaoke with the recorder. Our laughing was even merrier after any such attempt.

At one point, I even stayed around her caravan for an impromptu sleepover and we shared bunk beds. But it was at that point that even my young self-noticed something was a bit strange.  When I got back to my caravan I immediately set about pressing my nan on the matter.

Tiny Em: Nanny?

My Awesome Nan: Yes, Emmy?

Me: I thought my friend was here with her nan and grandad too, but she doesn’t call them that. She uses their names. Why is that?

Nan: Well…your friend is in a special situation. She’s a foster child.

Me: What’s that mean?

Nan: It means she has many different homes, and many different people who take care of her. So, although she probably loves her current carers, she probably doesn’t see them as her mum and dad, or even nan and grandad.

Me: Oh…that’s sad.

I didn’t know the full situation with my new friend, but I knew that she didn’t really like the people who had taken her on as their ward and that was enough.

As it happens, the next day was our last at the caravan park, so I made sure to make my friend a recording of my voice, and trade addresses so that we could be pen pals.

She looked grateful but doubtful. Everyone did, even my nan.

I sent one letter.

I never got one back.

Nan explained that she had moved on.

That was the end of it.

The ‘Sad’ Side of Foster Care

Let’s be clear about something: There are many, many amazing foster carers out there, and anyone who opens their home up to a child who has known uncertainty more than most will is an amazing act of compassion…most of the time.

But, looking back, my feelings of sadness for my friend were tinged with something more than the absence of a proper family.

That night at the sleepover my friend had mentioned her body. She had gone to say something, had wanted to say something, but could never find the words.

At one point, she even asked if she could borrow my recorder and be alone for a while and I had happily agreed but, when she came out of her room she just looked defeated and uncertain. She handed in back to me and suggested we wind it back and record something new, wiping whatever she had spoken in to the inanimate device clean.

Hard Truths

I have no doubt that my caravan friend attempted everything she could to have the best life possible. I hope she went to a good foster environment where private recordings were no longer needed (or at least not erased before they…before she could be heard). But when I think of her I also can’t help but think of these statistics:

-In America alone, an approximate 0.73% of American children (530,000) live in foster care.

-As many as 75% of all children in foster care will have experienced sexual abuse before leaving the system.

-The rate of sexual abuse in foster-care systems can be up to 28 times that of the general population.

[HG.org]

-A 2014 report in Britain found that 1 in every 100 children living in care are abused each year.

-Between 2009 and 2012 there were between 450-550 proven cases of abuse in foster care and 250 to 300 cases in residential care.

-More than 88% of this abuse is perpetuated by foster carers – the people foster children are supposed to trust and rely upon the most.

[Independent]

It is for this reason that, when Ducky DooLittle spoke of her experiences in the foster system at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit and asserted her position as strong, independent, and a fighter, I could see her as nothing less. Her resilience shined through, even between tearful moments, and I don’t think a single person in the room didn’t feel their hearts reach out in some form of compassionate display (either solidarity, a deep and unabating wish that such hurt would never befall a foster child again, or both).

Achieving Sexual Wellness

It’s also for this reason that the sexual wellness as awareness of foster youth can be crucial. Sexual abuse and manipulation is insidious in every situation, but even more so when the system intended to protect you is fundamentally failing and those who are meant to be your ‘carers’ are anything but.

And there are no better individuals to advocate for what such individuals need than foster children themselves.

As part of Ducky’s session she presented us with a list of 13 recommendations for caring for foster youth, as authored by foster youth. It is these recommendations that matter today:

-Help us know what our resources are.

-We should qualify for therapy, with or without diagnosis.

-We need access to trauma therapy that includes a focus on sexual abuse.

-Mandate more in-home visits, some of which should be surprise visits.

-Criminalize the act of allowing known sexual offenders into our foster homes or housing facilities.

-Provide youth friendly resources for reporting abuse.

-Educate us on how to avoid becoming a victim of sexual abuse.

-Train foster parents on how to better care for vulnerable youth.

-The more normalcy we have, the less vulnerable we are.

-Give us access to mentors we can trust.

-Help us access peer groups with whom we can share our stories.

-Educate us about why and how our experiences impact (and continue to impact) our lives, and tell us what we can do to manage the fall-out.

-Make sure we know our rights.

[FosterClub.org]

Awareness, Education and a Call to Arms

Underpinning all of these amazing recommendations is a running theme, and I’m sure you’ve detected it: Education in resource gathering, how to self-manage, and how to reach out when needed.

The more foster children know, the more we all know, the better equipped we are to counter the horrendous failures that occur in our current care systems.

Foster children are, like Ducky, smart, fierce, independent, and strong. They have all the resilience they need (they’ve had to cultivate it), what they need is resources, an idea of how to acquire them, and the skills needed to implement them.

If every one of us were a bit more mindful of the existence and needs of foster youths, as said in their own words, then we can help them make a difference and become strong allies in their efforts towards sexual wellness and a general sense of normalcy.

I’m on board. How about you?