We Have So Many Names

“What are you?”

“Oh, I have so many names.”

That’s a line from the movie “Devil’s Advocate”. In a moment of revelation, Keanu Reeves character finally figures out that the man he’s been working for is the Devil. And though no foster kid has ever been proven to be the Devil (though I make a case for Charles Manson), some of us have been called that and many, many other things. We have so many names.

As one of the voices of and for kids in care, I feel a particular pressure to make sure I get everything done in the right way and that foster kids, current and former, are given the honor and integrity they deserve. It’s with that in mind that I sought to find out exactly what the hell you should call us when we leave care.

There are many schools of thought on the subject and it’s a lot more controversial than you’d assume. Here’s the bottom line, I know you’re supposed to do that at the end of a discussion, but I move to the beat of my own drum. The bottom line is this: simply put, not everyone who goes through care has the same experience. Some of us breeze through. Some of us go through hell to be on our own. And some treat it like detention, you do your time and move on. Snowflakes is a popular term these days. Much like snowflakes, each of our experiences are unique. No two of us have the exact same story. We just don’t.

Because of that, I find myself responsible for figuring out how to blanket label us for the sake of time management and ease of job. Holy Hannah does that come off as selfish. Maybe I need to break it down a bit more.

Let’s start at the start. When you enter foster care you are called a few things; foster kid, foster child, foster teen or foster youth. There are variations within that, but you get the point. When you get too old for care we’ve got a name for that too; you aged out. Simple, huh? No here’s where it gets tricky; once you have aged out, what the hell are you?

If you are like the large percentage of foster kids (and even this is debatable), then care wasn’t a horror story. You lived with family in kinship care and they were good to you. You ended up in a decent foster home and walked away unscathed. Nothing eventful happened, you aged out and there you are. Clearly, I’m going to generalize experience in order to make a point, but I’m not all that far off. So, if this was your experience, you’re cool with being called a former foster kid or an alumni of care.

Former foster kid is pretty cut and dry and happens to be my go-to catchall.

I also have and will go by alumni of care. This is a heck of a lot stickier a name than former foster kid. As one of us put it “I didn’t F*$%ing graduate from foster care!). It’s true, alumni is most closely associated with the high school or college experience, however, it also means to come from a group. That’s the context in which I use it. If I were to sit down with it, I’m sure I could find reasons to not use it, as I could for any label I’m forced to put it on us. Downside to this one? It almost must be alumni of care, alum sounds too chummy and happy go lucky. For some reason, alumni has a more serious tone to it.

What’s next? Survivor. There’s a healthy percentage of former foster kids who feel this is the label that best suits them. Rightfully so. Some of the former foster kids I met have been through hell and back. The label survivor is completely warranted. The problem I run into there, how do I tell who had a rough go of it? Generally, folks will tell me their life story and I can figure it out from there, I’ve got that kind of face I guess. But what if they’re not as open as most? Do I ask? Hell no, I don’t ask!

What else? Victor….feels like survivor but it was a contest. Not to demean anyone who came out of care and felt like a victor, but we’re talking a super small percentage that come out feeling that way.

Fosters? Maybe, but that Freeform TV show makes that more complicated and confusing than it once was. Plus, it sounds campy. If you think the folks with bad experiences want to be called fosters, then you know more than I do.

My final analysis on this is as follows; I prefer not to anger anyone or minimize anyone’s experience. Not because I came up in the politically correct era. Not because I’m overly empathetic. Not because it’s the easiest course of action. I’m taking this stance because, honestly, if you’re experience was traumatic, who the hell am I to rip that wound open? Editor or not, if you don’t offer it up (in a casual setting), I’m not asking. I don’t want you asking about my time in care either. No one walks up to you and asks about a tough time in your life, do they? Same goes for former foster kids.

It’s about respect. If we did go through hell and back or if we had a decent go of it, that’s ours. Not yours.

Ideally, we never have to talk about it and you could just drop the whole foster thing. But most of us come back to advocate, or well-meaning people ask us where we grew up, any brothers and sisters, things like that. As a timesaver, most of us will mention care as a part of our life/growth. Whether I like it or not, I cover foster care, my time in care is going to come up.

I often wonder how former foster kids who are so far removed from care go about it. Do they ever mention it or is reserved for friends and family only? Before the mag, I can’t remember me making a big deal of it. I can’t count the number of people who have known me forever have said they had no idea I was in care. Maybe if you aren’t still in this world, it just doesn’t come up? Sounds like another article for another time.

Okay, well. What have we learned? Folks are sensitive about what you call them.

I never said I was inspiring or motivating. Come up with your own opinion! I say teasingly with a hint of sternness behind it.

On to other business.

Again, I find myself up against the end of the month by the time I finish an issue. This isn’t a new occurrence. I’ve explained my work schedule and how I try to wait until the last moment before publishing. Usually, it’s a matter of breaking stories or waiting to see if a story will go public that I can squeeze into the issue. If I’m nothing else, I am transparent and honest.

It was ridiculously nice for a good week up here in Central PA and since all of you have been on me about taking small breaks and all the self-health, self-care nonsense, I decided to listen. I took some time to go outside with the kids and let the sun hit my skin. I didn’t vaporize!!! The outside is as nice as I remember it. I know I don’t take enough time for me. In fairness, if I take a break, you get a later than expected issue. I hate that. My lack of sleep isn’t insomnia, it’s fear of failing. Every late issue feels like a small death.

But we grow and we learn. Who knows when I’ll have this all figured out, but it’s worth it to keep trying.

This issue was worth the couple days wait. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.

I crammed as much content as I could into this issue and I have to say, it’s exactly the kind of mix of information I’d like to see in the magazine each month. I’ll try to make that happen. For now, enjoy this issue. There’s so much covered, I’m not going to list it all here.

I’d be interested to know what you think. Maybe it’s because you all know how busy I am, but don’t think about that. Reach out to me. Tell me what you think. I get a bunch of positive feedback, but certainly there are some of you that think I could be doing something differently. Let me know. I’m happy to shape this magazine into whatever it needs to be. It’s been over five years, I think I’m covering all that I should be. You can tell me if I’m not.

Shoot me an email at chris@FosterFocusMag.com and I’ll be more than happy to hear what you have to say.

Okay, have at it. See you next month.