The online dictionary defines voiceless as “having no voice in the management or control of affairs.”
After I left the abusive foster home, the weight fell off thanks to a new environment that included more exercise and less food. My weight was more or less stable throughout my teens. I’d been with the same foster family for almost 4 years.
I’d also started dating a man in his early twenties. Things were a bit chaotic after I started dating “P” — I was sneaking out and lying about where I was going to be with “P”, all of which culminated in accusations of pregnancy/lost virginity from my foster parents. I developed headaches during these years.
Then the bottom fell out of my world. My foster parents announced they were moving to the United States. I wasn’t invited.
So here was my reality in 1979: I was 17, going to graduate high school, was dating an older man, and about to be abandoned by the foster family I had lived with for almost 4 years. While I didn’t know it at the time, in a year I would also be cut loose from foster care [known as “aging out.”]
I freaked out and went into survival mode. When “P” proposed, I accepted and we married shortly after I graduated from high school. My as-usual-absent father was not in attendance. My foster parents didn’t support the marriage and it’s difficult to recall if they provided alternatives. My grandparents came from the US and my grandfather walked me down the aisle.
The marriage wasn’t a cure all. I remember “P” as being somewhat controlling, [“I don’t ever want to see the outside of that toaster looking that dirty again”] and finances were tight. I was afraid, lacked confidence, and was emotionally and physically withdrawn and uncertain. “P” cheated on me with a hooker and wanted me to know it, since he charged the affair to our credit card. At the mercy of my circumstances, I had little control.
Two years into this marriage, I developed an eating disorder. I decided to eat less than 1,000 calories a day and existed on protein shakes for breakfast and lunch and a “sensible” dinner of mostly vegetables. [This sounds eerily similar to those advertisements for diet companies doesn’t it.] My weight dropped to 117 pounds. At 5’6”, the BMI calculator gives that a BMI of 18.9. [a BMI of less than 18.5 is considered “underweight”.] The wake up call was when my disorder caused health problems and I began to eat again. Two years later, the marriage ended in divorce.
Looking back, it surprises me that I did not develop an eating disorder sooner; after all, I had had little say or control over my life since I was 7 years old.
According to a report entitled “Youth Leaving Care – How Do They Fare” dated September, 2005, by The Modernizing Income Security for Working Age Adults (MISWAA) Task Force http://www.torontoalliance.ca/tcsa_initiatives/income_security/pdf/MISWAAYouthLeavingCareReport.pdf foster children who age out of the system are at increased risk for:
- leaving school before completing their secondary education
- becoming a parent at a young age
- becoming dependent on social assistance, unemployed/underemployed or incarcerated
- experiencing homelessness
- having mental health problems and
- being at higher risk for substance abuse problems
The report goes on to say:
Youth in care face considerable challenges in making the transition from state care to independence and adulthood. They bear the scars of physical and emotional trauma, yet are expected to function independently, usually with little social or financial support, once they reach age 18. Canadian youth aging out of care have cited the following requirements as being crucial in ensuring better transitions to adulthood:
- need for ongoing supportive relationships
- peer support, independent living training
- increased access to financial support and
- support in gaining access to education, employment and training programs
International research has attributed better outcomes for youth aging out where they:
- complete high school
- access post-secondary opportunities and role models
- refrain from alcohol/drug use
- obtain life skills and independent living training and
- experience stable placements while in care
Canada does not have the capacity to track the outcomes of youth as they leave care, nor can our programs identify the types of interventions showing the most promise in helping them to achieve better outcomes.
The authors of this report recommend providing extended support to youth aging out in such areas as financial assistance, health benefits, education assistance, and the development of standards to youth leaving care.
My marriage at 17 terminated my government care. Had I not married, I would have had another placement until I turned 18 and things might have turned out differently. “Aging out” would not have changed but with proper support how I approached it might have.