A timeline of one youth’s life from adoption, through foster care, and into independence, as told to Mary Caros.
Author’s note: This account started out as an interview with a youth as a way to allow her to give voice to her life experience. There is more to this story—and more to all of our life histories— than one person’s subjective experience. Our recollection of life events are often affected by the time and space in which we remember them. This young woman may tell her story quite differently five years from now. But the more we spoke, the more I was compelled to help her find her words and tell her history in her own way, the way she remembers it today.
I was adopted from Haiti by a Canadian family. My mom couldn’t look after me. She wanted me to be adopted for a better life. I understand that. There are 13 children in my adoptive family: three biological and 10 adopted. It was a lot of people. There was not a lot of individual time with my adoptive parents.
I started Kindergarten and it was probably the best experience I remember from being in school. My teacher spent time with each child in the class. I didn’t feel any peer pressure or competition. It was a safe environment.
I went with a work team from Canadian Foundation for the Children of Haiti (CFCH) to Haiti and visited my birth mother. She seemed very emotional, but I was too young to understand our relationship.
I was diagnosed with ADHD. It was hard for me to sit still, and I struggled in school. It was hard to make friends. Sometimes I didn’t want to go to school. I felt different. There was no ethnic diversity in my school and community. There was no cultural communication in my adoptive family.
I felt belittled by my teacher. Kids would tease me for my challenges with spelling. I didn’t want to go to school, and I missed a lot of days. Kids would tease me about my family, too. “That isn’t your REAL sister.” “Why aren’t your parents the same colour as you?” I loved my older siblings. It was great to have older kids to help me.
I hated Fridays because it was spelling tests. There wasn’t a lot of learning support at the school. One day a month an LST (Learning Support Teacher) came. She taught me how to tell the time. I wished I had had her every day for the whole year. I loved learning about the clock and Roman numerals. I loved Disney movies. My favourite superhero was Hercules. I still love mythology. I loved Cinderella, too, because there was a time element in the story - I was so proud of learning how to tell time.
I didn’t get along with my adoptive parents. They put me into respite a lot. I stayed at one home during the summer that was a great place, and I had a wonderful caregiver. She really understood my needs and had a lot of empathy. It was calm there and there was no yelling or throwing things or kids running around. She offered to pick me up from work or school.
I went to Haiti with a CFCH work team, and I saw my birth mom for the last time. She was in the hospital and I didn’t want to tell her that I wasn’t with the adoptive family anymore, and that I was in foster care now. I didn’t want her to know how hard it was growing up without her and without my culture.
The day before my 16th birthday I was put in a group home. The ministry said that my home was not a safe environment for me. They said it was not a good place for me to be in.
My adoptive mom told me that my birth mother died in the Haiti earthquake. I was upset and I left home for the final time. I probably would have been put in another group home anyway, so I thought I might as well leave on my own. I thought that my adoptive mom had pretty much given up on me.
I lived in 10 different foster homes and safe houses and was uprooted all of the time. Safe houses actually did feel safe to me because there was someone there all of the time giving me their undivided attention. They helped me with things I needed and helped me fight for my rights. I felt happy there, but they have time limits at these places. Fourteen days is the limit.
In the “religious” foster home, I had to conform and wear certain clothes, too. In the “wealthy” foster home I had a room in the basement with no bathroom door and no bedroom door. I wasn’t allowed to come upstairs after 4pm. The “too many rules” foster home called me all of the time, and I had to call them all of the time. I decided that this was not living, and that this shouldn’t be what life is. I went to a safe house until I turned 19.
I have been in my own place since July. I wanted to return to the caregiver that I had as a teen. CLBC said that they thought she couldn’t support me, but I think she’s the only person who would have made a better life for me. My current caregivers have two kids, and they don’t have time for me. It’s an emotionally draining place. I’m struggling financially but having my own place is a huge accomplishment. I am looking into a career. I try to think positive. I get a lot of support from the Speak Out Youth group. I have a sense of belonging there, and I feel like I fit in.
I am something and someone successful. I want to help people. I have a great paying job and friends in the same age group. In the future I hope that all transracial kids will be taught their heritage and history from their adoptive family. I hope that adoptive parents are screened more closely, that they get better information about how to be an adoptive parent, and that there are regular checkins to see how their family is doing, too.
Are you a youth in and from care looking for support? Check out our Speak-Out Youth Group.