Former Foster Youth Shatters Misconceptions

Foster care. The phrase either brings to mind images of “troubled” youth or joyous adoption celebrations. Most people have some concept of what they imagine foster care to be like, but it is rare to get a glimpse into the lives and experiences of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect and spend time in “the system.”

One former foster youth is seeking to change that by sharing her personal experience in foster care. Rosalina Burton, a student and mental health worker, speaks both locally and nationally about the reasons she and her siblings were removed from their parents, what it was like to grow up with instability, and how, with the help of her Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), she was able to overcome the barriers in her path.

Rosalina, along with her seven siblings, was first removed from her home when she was just three years old. Like many children in foster care, she was neglected by parents who struggled with drug abuse and mental illness. Too young to understand what was happening at the time, she still bears the trauma of witnessing domestic violence to this day. She recalls, “My earliest memories are of me being sad. At the age of 8, I was contemplating suicide.”

A child enters foster care when it is not safe for them to remain at home because of parental neglect, abuse, or abandonment, not because of something the child did wrong. Sadly, many youths in foster care battle the effects of the trauma they experienced as children – from stunted development to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After a brief period in care, Rosalina and her siblings began a cycle of returning to sober parents and re-entering foster care when mom or dad could not maintain their sobriety. In total, Rosalina remembers returning to her parents five times. While in foster care, she moved between at least 23 different placements. Along with the physical instability of new homes, she was continuously introduced to new caregivers, teachers, social workers and attorneys.

Through all the chaos and uncertainty, Rosalina credits one person – Dawna, the CASA she received through Voices for Children – with giving her the care, support and stability she needed to find her voice and to thrive. As a CASA volunteer, Dawna committed to be a consistent, positive adult presence in Rosalina’s life and to advocating for her best interests.

Over the course of five years, the two built an inseparable bond. Dawna was the one who showed up every time Rosalina had to move to a new placement, the one who cheered in the stands at softball games, and the one who stood beside Rosalina in court when her parents’ reunification services were terminated.

Rosalina shared with Giving Back Magazine, “Without my CASA by my side, I don’t think I would have felt like my voice mattered enough to say what I really needed and wanted. With Dawn’s support, I was able to do that.”

May is National Foster Care Month, a time when organizations across the country raise awareness about the challenges faced by children in foster care and acknowledge the dedication of the individuals, families and communities who support foster youth. Honor the dedication of CASA volunteers, like Dawna, this month by making a contribution to Voices for Children at www.speakupnow.org.