Child Welfare

Stereotypes about Students in Foster Care

February 10, 2023 | Ohio

Stereotypes about Students in Foster Care

February 8, 2023 | CDF-Ohio Youth Blog

By Jessica Abena Owusu, President of the Franklin County Youth Advisory Board

Having to deal with family problems and the challenges of life in general is hard. When a young person who does not have family faces these challenges and must solve problems on their own, it is unimaginably difficult. Not only do people with experience in foster care face life challenges on their own, but they also face stereotypes that stem from being in foster care. I have lived this reality and I know from first-hand experience; the stress can be overwhelming.  I wouldn’t even wish such situation on my worst enemy. What does a child do when they face these stereotypes? How does society contribute to these stereotypes?

In recent years, there have been efforts to improve the system and support those that have previously been in foster care, with more resources becoming available. Franklin County Children Services (FCCS) and representatives from other counties created a group for teenagers who have been involved in the foster care system or are currently involved in it and are willing to share their experiences and offer suggestions for how things can change and how to go about doing so. The Youth Advisory Board was subsequently established in order to push for improvements to the system. After I became involved, I learned more about the foster care system in Ohio. I was told that students don’t do well in school once they enter foster care, and they may begin behaving differently.  I was new to the group, and it was very overwhelming. Even though I am a responsible student who was about to become the board president, I also experienced these negative stereotypes and felt the pain of that type of  discrimination.

Some of us are not fortunate enough to have both parents present, and stereotypes in this area are particularly harmful. We can improve our community by refraining from making assumptions about people’s abilities before giving them the chance to express themselves. It is unfortunate that some children haven’t had the chance to receive a lot of love, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them. There are still a lot of negative stereotypes that there is something wrong with children in foster care. This was implied when someone asked me, “Are you okay?” after I shared my past. I replied, “Yes, I’m alright; I’ve been to counseling,” but the comment reflected the negative stereotypes I continue to face.

I recently interviewed a colleague who is also a member of the Youth Advisory Board who attends the Ohio State University. She shared her experience and some advice. She had almost the same encounter as me. She shared that people said to her face that she won’t make it and asked questions like, “How do you live without your parents? and “Are you a troublemaker?” She went on to explain:

“I was very offended by their remarks. After I told them about my situation, they didn’t see me as the person in front of them, but saw me as a troublemaker who has no future because of my trauma. Comments like ‘she doesn’t look like she’s in foster care’ made me feel that the fact that I don’t have my family with me makes me inhuman. It’s not bad to ask questions and be curious, it’s about how you ask the questions.”

She advises that people should try and be polite when asking questions because even when people genuinely want to know how it is, it can sometimes come out as rude. Remarks like these have a negative impact on youth’s self-image and can make them discouraged and assume they won’t be successful. She agrees that improvements in the system are needed. “We can’t wait for the system to make everything great. We should do better and be together,” she said.

If society believes there’s no hope for the system, how can we expect students to believe in themselves? We are trying our best to make this a better and safe place for youth in foster care. We must help others change their assumptions about how much students who have been in foster care can accomplish. Together we can all learn to be better.

Jessica Abena Owusu is President and an active member of the Franklin County Youth Advisory Board. Jessica is currently a Biology major at Columbus State Community College and a Pharmacy Technician at SBH Medical, a compounding pharmacy.