Good Morning everyone, my name is Catherine Sanders and I’m 19 years old. I came into the system in 2008 when I was 13 years old and my court “plan” was reunification. I knew from the start that I didn’t want to return back with my biological mother, and I constantly told my workers and everyone else involved in the case that, but no one seemed to listen to me, instead they just tried to precipitate visits and family therapy into the equation. They set the goal and it stayed that way until I was 17 years old in 2012. Then I was told my plan was APPLA which stands for Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement. Even though I wanted that type of permanency with my present family, it seemed that no one bothered to atleast mention the word “adoption”. All I was ever talked to about was “aging-out”. No one ever mentioned to me the possibilities of being adopted.
It wasn’t until I attended a youth advocacy training this past May that I realized it was attainable. I listened to youth from other places from around the country and even Canada, talk about being adopted after 18 years old. I couldn’t believe it. Astonishingly, I thought to myself, why didn’t anyone talk to me about this after all these years? As soon as I heard this revelation, it changed so much for me. All I ever heard about was “aging-out”, and how much I was saving? I was also asked what my plans were for work and college, and should I think about getting a certificate rather than finishing out my undergraduate degree, among a list of things. I thought about this so much that there were periods where I was entirely stressed out, depressed, and had high levels of anxiety because of the constant bombarded questions. It was as if they were sucking the oxygen out of my lungs. I even had thoughts of suicide because of the deep fear that I would become a statistic based on the ones who had an unfortunate process after aging out.
I know that with the APPLA goal there is supposed to be a compelling reason why no permanent family is being recruited for me. But when I saw my court report, there is nothing written about why they weren’t trying to help me get adopted, especially after being with my family for almost 7 years. The goal was changed in July 2012, with a goal achievement date of October 2015. I had already been in care for over four years – now another three years in care and still no one talks with me about adoption.
If I were a social worker, I would do my best to understand the child, and find out what she wants in her heart. Even if she’s close to aging out, I would still go over the other options – adoption, guardianship, and kinship – not just APPLA. Especially if the child has been with their family for a long time, like I have. You can’t rush the child into aging out. You can’t keep asking “what are you going to do after you age out, what are you doing to prepare for aging out?” It’s too stressful. Other kids have the opportunity to live with their parents until they’re ready for adulthood. Why can’t I have that? I’m human too.
If I were a policy maker I would make policies that direct child welfare to do these things:
- Do what’s best for the child, not what’s easiest for you or the system.
- Remember that you get to go home at the end of the day, but kids have to live in it 24/7.
- Make sure you find homes that are beneficial to the children.
- Find the right place in the beginning so kids don’t have to keep going from place to place.
- Never put a child in a residential program, just because you don’t have another plan. It’s scary and can really hurt them and expose them to things that are necessary for them to see. Lots of kids in these programs have serious issues – it is not right to put those of us who don’t into that environment.
- Have programs for children and youth so they know about all the possibilities for them.
- Keep working to find real, permanent families for kids, even after a certain age.
Now that I have gone over the serious matters, I want you all to know a bit about who I am and where I’m headed. I am currently in college having finished my sophomore year and have a 3.4 GPA. I have plans to get my Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications. I plan on utilizing this degree to be a motivational speaker to use my voice as a way to give light to others that are in my position, I want to motivate those that believe that there is no sun after the rain, because I personally know how that feels. I also have aspirations to be a newscaster or an actress; to connect to people through my work as well. I am not a case number in black ink on white paper, I know that I am filled with purpose and it is that very purpose that allowed me to find meaning in every struggle that I have endured, and that is what gave me the power to push through the years of emptiness, confusion, and depression. John F. Kennedy once said, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” I believe this quote relates to my speech in a way because, every child put on this earth has a purpose, but it doesn’t began to manifest without direction, and I believe that every child in the system needs that proper, permanent direction, including me. Thank you.