By Valena Hamilton Koontz
Growing up in foster care from the age of 3 to 17, I don’t know where to start. There were 40 placements, so I was told. I may correct that number later. I can remember everything like it was yesterday; people, names, faces, placements, group homes. I am half Native-American and African-American. I am enrolled in the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. I also am the youngest of four siblings.
For almost 14 years I was lost. It was a tug of war with the Tribe and the State of Nebraska, and I was the rope. In the late 80′s early 90′s, I don’t think they knew what to do with children that were abused, hurt, alone and lost. By the time I was 8, I was in 12 different homes. Some state and some by the Tribe.
I was never stable. I just got used to hearing, “You’re going to meet a new family today Valena.” So I put on my cute smile and charm, packed my bags and wished to myself this time they would like me or keep me. Not knowing the smile would always fade. I wasn’t getting the right treatment and help to deal with all that I had been through. I was able to create a fake mask that was not me at all. It was just to please everyone. It was like I was on the market.
I was in group homes where I felt like a guinea pig. I lost three years of my life being drugged up on meds to see if they controlled any of my feelings or problems. During the first eight years of my life I met some of my real family. I always remembered times with my grandfather and seeing my mother on short visits. It was good and scary to know where I came from. But what hurt the most was getting close and loving so many people that were ripped from my life. Being hurt and broken all over again made me just shut down. I didn’t care anymore.
To make a long, long story short, I raised myself. I learned to live in the day, in just the moment, because I didn’t know what was going to happen the next day. I became a mother at the age of 14. And had a few more after that that the state took because of my past. I am 30 now, still trying to find my path. But God showed me that everything I’ve been through is for a reason. So I can share and relate and help.
I’ve been down the drug path, living on the streets, was abused every way you can imagine. And I have every story and situation locked in my head and heart. I am writing a book about my tears as a minor. I have the story of every home, person, who, what, where and how…but could never answer why? I am hoping to help and heal other children who are feeling everything I’ve lived and I want them to know you can survive. I love them without knowing them because I know every tear, every fear. I was them at one time. I want to let other younger foster children know don’t give up.
This post first appeared on Fostering Media Connections’ “In My Own Words” blog.
Published on May 10 as part of Children’s Rights 2013 “Fostering the Future” campaign.