Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"It's time for us to find hope."

Shalita O'Neale, former foster youth and founder of the Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center.

My name is Shalita O'Neale,and I'm a former foster youth. I aged out of the foster care system at the age of 21. As a result of my foster care experience, I decided to start a resource center for foster youth, the Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center (

Growing up in foster care, my peers and I experienced a lot of stereotyping (and still do). There is this belief that all foster youth are troublemakers, thieves and problem children. This is not true. I am a prime example of a youth that is succeeding, and I know many other youth that prove these stereotypes wrong. I did not think I had a voice growing up in care and was seldom asked about how I felt about living in foster care. I did not have the confidence or the knowledge about how to speak up. This is what needs to be changed in the system. Our voice needs to be heard and we need to know that we have one. We need to be around the table when decisions about us and our well being are being made because who better knows of what may work best for us then us? There should be nothing about us without us.

This shouldn't be viewed as threatening either. We are resources that have not been effectively tapped into. We can bring energy and grounding to the programs that are being designed to help us. We can help avoid the failure of child welfare systems by incorporating a perspective that will create programs and policies that make sense for the very youth it is being designed to service: foster youth, US!

I am very happy that MPT is having a foster care phone bank (tomorrow, November 20 at 9:30 p.m.) and hope people tune in and call for information on how to help or just for more information on foster care. So many people have a lot to say about foster care and adoption, and give their opinions about foster youth, social workers or foster parents (much of which is inaccurate), but don't take advantage of an opportunity to educate themselves on the facts. Hopefully people will call in and get accurate information. That will be the first step to breaking down the myths and stereotypes of foster youth. Then we can begin building a foundation of support for them so they can have the same chance at success as those youth with loving families.

It's time for change. It’s time for us to be heard. It's time for us to find hope, and I believe that once the community, foster youth and child welfare join together as a team, all of these things will come to fruition.

Tune in on the 20th! This is National Adoption Month. There are foster youth out there who want a loving and stable home. If you can't commit to that, try mentoring a few hours a month or fostering. Call in to see how you can help. Every bit of contact from positive people makes a difference. I am where I am today because people have taken the time out to make a difference in my life.

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