Alisha Anderson, 19
Represent, New York
In September, the leaves began to change to their autumn hues, and I no longer felt the humid heat of summer. Instead, I began to notice a chill when I stepped onto my front stoop.
Remembering the hard times I had getting winter clothes in the past – borrowing clothes from my best friend and begging for money from my previous foster parents – I set out to make sure that this time the agency would pay for them before winter officially began.
I’ve been in foster care at the same agency for four years, and it’s never been explained to me in detail who’s responsible for which aspects of my care. Usually, everything goes smoothly if it’s something big, like appearing for court or changing homes. But the little details of everyday life tend to go unnoticed.
This time, I decided that I was going to make myself heard. My thin leather jacket, which I borrowed from my little sister two winters ago, wouldn’t cut it any longer. It was time to head to my agency and have a discussion with my social worker. She sent me to my Independent Living (IL) supervisor, who informed me that I needed to talk to my social worker.
Back to my social worker I went. This time, she didn’t even bother to let me open my mouth. She just pointed in the direction of yet another person to answer my question – my behavior specialist.
My behavior specialist had no idea who was responsible, and sent me back to my social worker for the third time. I was pissed off by now and decided to take matters into my own hands by complaining to the IL supervisor and the agency nurse.
“I need winter clothes. Who is responsible for that?” I asked.
“That’s your social worker’s job,” said the IL supervisor. “They are responsible for doing inventory every couple of months to make sure you have appropriate seasonal clothing.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me that?”
“That’s also your social worker’s job,” she replied.
“Wow. How was I supposed to know this if I hadn’t asked you what was going on? Something should be done.”
“We thought you already knew. You’ve been here long enough. You should’ve had a meeting about this when you first entered care.”
This was ridiculous. How could they expect me to know? I’d changed homes at least six times. Everything gets muddled when you change surroundings so often, especially if the rules were never clearly explained in the first place. I never knew which foster parent did things because they wanted to, and which just did what they were told to.
Bolstered by the fact that I’d done the right thing in the first place, I approached my social worker yet again. This time I wouldn’t take no for an answer. It took a week of badgering, but I finally got her to agree to conduct a clothing inventory during my next home visit. Two months later, that clothing inventory still hasn’t happened.
The other day, I came into the agency to attend a team meeting about me wearing a coat I had borrowed from a friend in Brooklyn. My social worker seemed very relieved.
“You got a new coat?” she asked hopefully.
“Nope,” I replied. “I borrowed it.”
“Oh,” she said, no longer cheerfully smiling.
Although this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to bring up my clothing issue, I felt an undercurrent of impatience in the room and ended up saying nothing. So I kept my mouth shut, even though I had just barely recovered from a bout of bronchitis that I believe was caused by my lack of winter clothing.
I still don’t have a coat, and I could kick myself. It’s better to seize the opportunity and speak up for yourself when you need something instead of letting things build up. Even though I blew my most recent opportunity to demand my winter coat, you can be sure that my agency hasn’t heard the last of me.
© 2010 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc., http://www.youthcomm.org.