I have worked with over a thousand foster youth in the past 20 years. Thanks to Facebook and other social media sites I am able to stay in contact with them after they have left foster care and moved onto other settings. I recently connected with the first child that I placed in foster care. She is 33 now and has two children of her own and she is doing very well.
It is always difficult when our youth are returned to situations that appear to be unsafe. Many times our foster parents don’t believe that a youth’s family has made the necessary changes it takes to be a good caretaker to their child. At those times we hope for the best and try and stay connected to the child after their return home. We try and teach the children survival skills including how to keep their selves safe. We teach them a strong sense of cultural identity which can be a great predictor of resiliency to trauma. We teach them to use their tobacco in a good way. We praise them and tell them of the great things that we hope for them and their life.
The following letter was written by one of these children that went home to her family where changes had not happened but there were fiscal restraints for the continuation of foster care and so she was returned to the Reservation home with her family. Let’s call her Harmony. A few months later her foster mother received this letter:
how you been doing? man I really miss you. But me im doing okay. im in treatment because I got a minor and they want to put me in here before I got into any more trouble. But it’s ok im doing fine! Just really lonely. And really homesick. But I don’t know I just wanted to see how you are doing. Hows **** & all the girls? they doing good. Make sure and tell everyone I said hi & I miss them. But I just need someone to talk to im really sad and emotional because *****(sister) got beat up by her boyfriend now she’s living with her dad and baby ******* in ******** and told me she’ll come see me every weekend but I don’t think that’s going to happen. right when me & ***** become close something always has to ruin it! im scared. i have to be here with other people i don’t know. i know it’s my own fault I got myself here. But i mean why did my life have to end up like this? What did i do wrong? *** to tell you the truth my life is bullshit. But that’s life right? But i never pictured my life to be like this at the age of 14. The Res is so bad i got to worry about getting beat up if i walk around because that’s how people are around here. Sometimes i think about running away from home but i don’t know where I’d go. And I’d never have enough guts to anyways. Me and my moms boyfriend don’t get along. He treats me like im nothing. And now I’m starting to think im nothing. this Res ruined my whole life well my childhood. i miss my brothers especially ******* he’s in treatment too. at ****. But *** please tell me you wont tell nobody about me being here i don’t want them to think of me as a bad person. It’s funny because i still remember your address, house phone & your cell phone if you still got it. But yeah i miss you so much ***. i don’t know if i ever got to tell you but i thank you so much for taking care of me & my sister. i love you. your like another mom. a mom that’s been there for me & always will. You & **** i respect you guys! But hopefully you’ll write me back that’ll help me lot to hear from you. but i love & miss you *** tell **** I miss him too & all the girls. especially ****. Well ok! love you.
Love always + Forever
A few weeks after she wrote this letter she was again returned to her mother’s care on her reservation. Shortly after her return home, Harmony was killed in a motor vehicle accident and she had been under the influence of alcohol. She was 14 years old.
I have read this letter many times since the day she was killed. I read her cries for help. How she blamed herself for her lot in life when in reality she had very little control over her life’s circumstances. She worries about her safety on the Reservation and worries about the safety of her sister who is in an abusive relationship with her baby daddy. Harmony fights with her mother’s boyfriend and needs to worry about that as well. She wants to run away but has nowhere to go.
This is a true story and there are countless other stories that I could share with you about how the child welfare system is not protecting our Native children.
Donna Ennis is currently the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.