Every child needs a childhood

reynaBy Reyna Rutan, President of Youth Leadership Council for DFPS Region 7

I entered foster care when I was in 5th grade. Right away, I changed schools.  I met awesome kids and families and I began to feel more comfortable in my new environment.  I soon became friends with many of the kids in my grade and got invited over to homes and parties, but I never got to go.  Imagine being in the 5th grade finally surrounded by healthy families and friends and having to turn down opportunities that “normal” children have every day.

Growing up in foster care can be very complicated.  Some children will tell you it even feels like they are doing a life sentence due to the lack of freedom they have. For example, some children want to join a sport or school organization but can’t because no one will cover the cost for them to join or no one will commit the time to taking them to practices. I remember wanting to join my school’s cheerleading team and making it, but since my foster mother did not want to pay for it, I wasn’t able to join. Excuses about costs and transportation were what I was given. There were even times where I couldn’t go to a movie because no one would pay for me or because my foster mom was told not to let me go anywhere because she would be liable if something happened.

I was never able to hang out with friends because my group home did not want to be liable for me if anything happened outside their supervision. In order to be able to go have a “play-date” with anyone, I would have had the child, their parent and anyone else living in the home pass a background check. Can you imagine how embarrassing that is? I hated having to ask people to sign background check forms in order for us to hang out.  I eventually learned to avoid making friends so that I did not burden anyone.

I now am 18 years old and am on my own.  I, as well as many foster youth and alumni, still struggle to find the right people to surround myself with because I was never given the opportunity to make choices. The lack of opportunity to create relationships and keep them has been a struggle for me.

As I look back on my time in foster care, I am excited about current opportunities to help other youth.  Senate Bill 1407 would allow foster youth to have a “normal” life in care by helping take away some of the fear and liability issues that drive decisions of foster parents and caseworkers. If a child were to want to be involved in school activities or hang out with friends, the agencies would not be required to have a background check and they would not be liable if anything bad were to occur. I urge everyone to support this legislation because every child deserves to have a good childhood.