My name is Stephanie Cruz. I’m currently a wife and most importantly, a mother to a 2 year old little boy. Before that I was a foster child. I was in foster care 2 times in my 21 years of life. My first go around wasn’t a bad experience. I missed my mother and my foster parents cared for me and did their best to help me as a parent should. I was only 8 years old when I was taken from the disruptive life I was living. It was 7 longs months before the court allowed my siblings and I to reunify with our mother.

The second time around was a completely different experience. I sought help to leave the place I called home. I’m the one who asked the judge please don’t make me go back home. It wasn’t my mother who I wanted to run from. It was my sister. My mother worked 2 jobs to provide for me and my 2 oldest siblings. She made sure we had what we needed. It was my sister who disciplined my brother and I went my mom wasn’t home. It was my sister who instilled the fear I had. I thought foster care would be like the first time. One home, 2 great foster parents, the love, the support, and the care that I wanted and needed. Sadly it didn’t happen quite like that. This time around it was a time to find myself, to figure out what I wanted for myself, for my life, and to finally understand who I am and how to better understand myself, and my bipolar disorder.

My first home in my 3 year journey only consisted of me staying 2 days. My foster mom had another foster child who was a year older than me. I was nervous being a new home and wanted to talk to other foster child to get over the nervousness I was feeling. My foster mom didn’t like that and yelled at me, telling me that I had to stay away from her other foster child. She would corrupt me, and make me follow in her bad influences. I went to her phone and was trying to dial the phone number of the case worker assigned to me and she pushed me and snatched the phone from my hands and told me I was not to touch her things because I was in her house. My anxiety went through the roof and I went into a panic / asthmatic attack and an ambulance was called. The next day I was moved to another home.

I moved into another home that was out of the city limits to attend my original high school. This time I thought this home would be better, I had two parents. Things will be better here. Things were good for the first few weeks. I was the only foster kid in the home. Things got better and then 3 siblings ages 3, 4, and 7 moved into the home. I knew what it felt like to be away from everything familiar to me, how it felt to missed my loved ones. I dedicated my time to these children everyday. I helped them with their homework. I played with them and when they were scared I comforted them. I was finally a big sister and it was everything I thought it would be and more. I gradually saw a change in my foster parents to these little kids. They always treated me right: they never yelled at me or harmed me. But they were much more strict with the younger children. They were always being punished; they were hit when they did wrong. They were only allowed to eat on the floor because they would make a little mess at the table. Instead of being treated with respect, they were treated like they were a burden. They were put in the chicken pen to scare them. I had to live with them, seeing the horror of what they had to go through every day when I was just like them. I was a foster kid too. But they treated me differently. Maybe it was because I was older and could stand up for myself.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to continue seeing this mistreatment to these little kids that I saw as my little brother and sisters. I knew I could ask to move to another home BUT WHAT ABOUT THEM? If I left who would be there for them? I finally came to my breaking point and I had enough. I cried while I grabbed the bottle of 500mg Tylenol tablets and swallowed over 30 pills with no water. I wanted to rid myself of the pain I felt for living this life. Horrible for not being to save them from the parents who were supposed to care for us, love us, and show us what it is to really be safe, what it is to have parents. The next day I woke up and fell out of bed because of the effect of the Tylenol. The ambulance was called and I was taken away; away to rid my body of the toxins I shoved down my mouth. I found the comfort of a hospital room where I begged to keep these people away from me.

I was in the hospital for 4 days cleaning out my body to save my failing liver from the damage I caused. I was asked so many times “Stephanie why did you do this? What’s made you try to end your life?” I was slowly able to come clean of the life these kids were living. I finally had the confidence to tell them everything in hopes of saving these precious kids I saw as family. I was transferred to MUSC, Medical University of South Carolina, where I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t okay. I was on the adolescent side of the hospital to receive mental help for trying to commit suicide. This was my beginning to learning that I was bipolar.

I was only in the hospital for about 11 days before I was “ready” to go to my new foster home. Her name was Stephanie and she was a single mother of two. She was great. She treated me as one of her own. I never had any problem with her. I loved my new school. My new friends. I finally had a real boyfriend. Everything was going so well. Her family liked me. I was the only Hispanic kid in the whole school that was predominantly black. I was on Prozac to help me with my bipolar disorder. But I slowly saw myself spiraling out of control. I was getting angry for no reason, I would lash out when I was told no. Sometimes I would cry all day for no reason. I didn’t understand why I would run through so many moods in one day. But through it all Stephanie was there. She didn’t turn me away. She didn’t kick me out when she saw that I was losing all control. She was there for me. She was there for me the day her father put his hand down my shirt and under my bra and felt by breast and told me not to say anything. She believed me when I suddenly ran into her room curled up next to her and bawled my eyes out. She listened to me and chased her father down after I told her what just happened. She cared for me, she truly cared and her father was no longer welcomed in her home. She told me not to say anything because if I did I would have to leave, so I stayed silent. I had nightmares of that day.

I gradually continued on my rampage of emotions, on my rampage of anger and hate towards everyone around me. Until I could no longer take it and Stephanie picked me up from school because I got suspended. That day I finally lost myself and jumped out of her car. I woke up in the hospital. I can only tell you what they told me because as of today I have no memory of opening the door and letting myself fall onto the road, of my face sliding across the pavement. I don’t remember being put into an ambulance. What I do remember is waking up in the hospital bed feeling like I’ve been ran over by a car and an ache in my face and leg. I remember the light shining in my face, and a man, an officer standing over me asking me my name, my age, what happened and where I was. Stephanie was at my side and told me that she saw me open the door and screamed at me to close the door. To stop. But it was too late. I was flying out the car faster than she could stop the car. I was taken back to MUSC. I was there for 12 days. And Stephanie didn’t visit me. She didn’t call either. The day I left I didn’t leave for Stephanie’s house. I went to a residential treatment facility that would be my home for the next year and 2 months.

I had difficulties dealing with my mood swings. I had difficulties understanding that I could learn to control myself. Learn what my triggers were. I was able to speak. Speak about what made me mad, sad, and what made me explode. I had my bad days and even worse days at the lighthouse. I was filled with so much anger. Stephanie abandoned me after I told my new therapist what happened. I broke our secret and she never called, visited or asked about me. More anger, more rage filled me. I punched the walls at the lighthouse. I punched them until my hands hurt until there was a hole In the wall. I kicked the wall until the staff members had enough and restrained me. Until I finally found the right medication that worked for me and help me feel okay again. In total I had 8 foster parents. Some better than others. There are only 2 who I keep in contact with. Only 2 who continue to help me on my Journey of a thousand dreams. Only 2 who call me family even after all the hurt I caused them. I have the pleasure of calling them mom and dad, even though I signed myself out the system.

For those who are wondering what happened to those 3 siblings after I went to the hospital. I was told that because of me speaking for them, because I opened up and told my social worker what was going on, that they opened up as well. They were removed from the home and into a new home where they continued to stay together because I begged and pleaded to keep them together. And that was the last I knew of them. I hope one day I can see them again. Hug them and tell them how sorry I was for leaving them…

I know I wasn’t an easy child to deal with. I know it’s not easy to care for a child who came from a broken family. But the only thing I ask from all foster parents who take the responsibility of caring for someone else’s kids is to think of how you treat the kids that enter your home. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself am I helping them? Am I giving them better than what they were taken from? Why am I a foster parent? Am I making a difference in these kids’ lives or am I showing them that nothing will change for them? And remember that when you ask your foster child to keep a big secret so that you or other parties involved don’t get into trouble that you are only hindering that child. Showing them that abuse is okay. Abuse is normal. That they should just deal with it. And that’s not okay. You were trained to deal with the hardest situations, not because you were asked to, but because that’s what you signed up for when you took the steps to become a foster parent.