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Silent Struggles: A Journey Through Foster Care Neglect

Imagine being a child in foster care. Now, picture being a child in foster care at the age of 12, permanently disabled – that was my reality. In one of my initial placements, I was placed with a foster family that solely spoke French, making communication challenging. However, even more distressing was the fact that my disability (I am now a woman in the prime of her life, living with cerebral palsy and relying on a wheelchair for mobility) left my voice unheard. My opinions were disregarded, and I felt invisible, leading to a life-threatening situation.

I must admit, as a child, I loathed attending school. The reason behind my aversion was the constant bullying I faced, ranging from remarks about my appearance and clothes to taunts about my wheelchair. Some even ridiculed me due to issues with my bladder since birth. Such experiences made school unbearable. It is amusing now, as an adult, that I find immense joy in attending university and pursuing my chosen profession as a speech therapist. I truly have a heart for the disabled community now.

Returning to my story, one morning, while my foster parents were helping me prepare for school, I fell severely ill, experiencing sharp stomach pains. I informed them that I couldn't attend school that day, but they believed I was faking sickness, adding to my distress. Desperate for help, I endeavored to reach a phone to call 911 after they left. I had taken my clothes off so many times that day that I missed the bus. I did this on purpose. Unfortunately, they had locked the phones in rooms I couldn't access. I was also left on the floor without my wheelchair so that I would be forced to crawl. I crawled around trying to find something to open one of the bedroom doors with. Finally, I managed to unlock the door with a bobby pin and, without my wheelchair, crawled to the phone.

Calling for assistance, an ambulance was dispatched, and I had to kneel on my knees to open the front door. The pain was excruciating due to my past surgeries that were done to my knees. At the hospital, my temperature soared, and I was diagnosed with a nearly ruptured appendix and misplaced shunt tubes in my stomach. I have a VP shunt to drain water from my brain, as I was born with hydrocephalus. The doctor explicitly stated that had I not called 911, my life could have been in jeopardy.

Several hours later, upon waking up from surgery, I observed my foster parents conversing with the doctors, who concluded that this was a case of child neglect. Consequently, my foster parents were arrested and brought to trial. Though the duration of their imprisonment escapes my memory, I strongly believe that no child should endure such trauma, regardless of their ability to communicate.

Our foster care system is flawed and requires significant improvement. Having shared my story, I feel compelled to shed some light on some statistics about foster care neglect. According to the Florida census, as of 2021 there were 27,384 child maltreatment victims. (Children's Bureau Child Welfare Outcomes State Data Review) When we put those victims into categories 1.3% suffered emotional abuse, 3.7% suffered medical neglect, 61.5% suffered neglect, 8.2% suffered physical abuse, and 9.6% suffered sexual abuse. (Children's Bureau Child Welfare Outcomes State Data Review) The question is why is this happening at all? Also, why is the neglect number so big? Are there not enough thorough home studies being done? What's wrong with Florida’s system? In the coming years I hope to see some changes.  These numbers should not exist at all. I consider myself so fortunate to have survived. I hope my story gives you some food for thought.

References

Florida Outcomes. (n.d.). https://cwoutcomes.acf.hhs.gov/cwodatasite/pdf/florida.html


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