Aging out – Tim’s caseifcayouth
I often refer to this moment in my life around my 18th birthday where the family I thought would love and support me throughout my life rejected me… or so I thought. In actuality, what had happened was that we had two different ideas about what our relationship would look like going in to the future. I don’t know what I wanted from them in terms of a relationship- I had never thought about it. But to my 18 year old self, I was certain that when my foster parents asked me to return the key to their house on the day when I moved away to college- the house that I’d spent 5 years growing up in- that they didn’t want me anymore.
I tried to test this relationship out a few times after that. One time, I was short on money for books while at college and didn’t know where else to turn so I asked them for 150 dollars. They made such a big deal out of my asking that I just went without those books for the whole school term (and doing poorly in the classes that I didn’t have the books for). There were several instances like this that made me all but certain that my foster parents didn’t really want me around. What I hadn’t realized- what I couldn’t realize- in my young age and relative inexperience in relationships was that relationships aren’t an all or nothing proposition.
Relationships are extremely nuanced in hundreds, if not, thousands of different little ways. What I’ve come to understand, now that I’ve matured a little in my view of relationships, is that my foster parents absolutely wanted to be a part of my life but not in the ways that I was hoping. So when they disappointed my hopes about our relationship and the kind of support they would offer me as I was transitioning, I interpreted it as an outright rejection. I realize that some of this is just me. Sometimes I see the world in an absurd black and white kind of way, failing to appreciate the comfortable gray. Character tendencies aside, I wish that I could explain to my younger self that just because someone can’t help you in the way that you are looking for doesn’t mean that they don’t like you or that you can’t form close bonds with them. More simply put:
Not helping purchase school books ≠ stop calling us because we don’t want you
I am positive that most young people wouldn’t know how to have the kind of conversation it would have taken to clear up the misunderstandings between us. What we were suffering from was a type of major miscommunication that even high-powered business professionals suffer from: neither my foster parents nor I new how to manage our expectations of one another.
To me, aging out of foster care meant an unaltered relationship between me and them even when I moved away. To them, it meant that I would be financially independent from them but that I would continue to rely on them for emotional support, which, again, I did not get as a younger person and did not take advantage of. This is part of the reason (but certainly not the whole reason) why I went through some of my most vulnerable years without a safety net to catch me should I fall. And fall I did! Several times in fact. But luckily for me none of those falls were catastrophic in nature or severely life-altering. I never accrued large medical debt like many young people do, I didn’t have any children like many of my American peers from care did, and I was free from substance abuse problems or a criminal record that follow some foster youth around for years. Like I said though, there were more than a few times that I was in trouble and didn’t know where to turn: when my partner and I had broken up after 6 years of having been together I was hurting and I didn’t know what to do and to make it worse I became temporarily homeless after our breakup; when I would periodically run out of money for basic school necessities, I didn’t know what to do or where to turn; when I was severely depressed and unable to attend classes regularly. These are all instances in which it would have been helpful to have someone who knew me and that I trusted to be able to point me in the right directions. There are a couple of ways that this could have been done- for instance, my school could have had a designated campus support staff for foster youth- however, for me in my situation it was a simple fix. We just needed a little bit of help managing our expectations of one another. Of course, they could have been better trained on how to navigate relationships transition-aged youth but everyone could always be better trained at something. In my view, it would have been incredibly helpful if there was a person or a tool that made it easy to have that conversation about what our relationship would look like as I was aging out in very concrete ways. Was I welcomed back home during school breaks? Could I count on them for emotional support? Could I solicit relationship advice from them if I needed it? Would they help me move if I needed it or provide a place for me to store some of my things? Could I ask them for money if I was broke? Obviously, the last one in this list was a sticking point for our relationship, as were a few other things. But it wasn’t because they didn’t want to help me- they just couldn’t help me in the ways that I was looking for. If I had have had that realization and that level of communication with my foster parents, I think that I would have wasted less time not talking to them.
ortunately, I believe that there is a model for having this conversation that exists and that would be incredibly helpful for Japanese foster youth and adult supporters to be armed with. There’s something called the “Permanency Pact” (you’ve probably heard me mention it before) that explains, in detail and in youth friendly terms, what permanency is. It’s meant to be a sit-down conversation between a foster youth and their adult supporter(s), which could include anyone from a foster parent to a teacher to a religious clergy member. The conversation about permanency and the “Permanency Pact” is led by a facilitator who brings the youth and adult together to try to outline what their relationship will look like moving forward. I know that this sounds really intimidating for some youth, but the idea is that the process is youth driven in that they have the conversation with their facilitator first (who might be someone like a teacher, social worker, group home staff member, etc.) and then talks separately to the supportive adult to ask if they are interested in supporting the young person through their transition into adulthood. Only after both parties have agreed do they come together to meet and talk about the details.
Of course, I definitely think that there are a lot more things that could be done to support transition-aged foster youth that could be equally helpful. For example, I think that transition support programs should be done on a more wide-scale level in Japan and should be made higher quality in the United States. But I can personally attest to the fact that all I needed in my situation was a conversation starter- something like the “Permanency Pact”. I can also personally attest to the fact that many of the youth that I spoke with at the IFCO conference in Osaka would have been helped by this as well. Through conversations with them, I discovered that many Japanese youth suffered from the same kind of anxiety that I did about what their futures might look like and who would be there for them. The answer to this anxiety for me and for them is simple. Why not just ask? The obvious answer is that you can’t just ask such a thing because doing so is absolutely terrifying. For example, what if the reject me? This is why considering the way that we ask for permanency is extremely important and why I think having a model in place would help all young people a great deal.
This post is also available in: Japanese