Growing up in care, there were always assumptions about who we were. These assumptions were based on what our file said. The red book, as it was called, held our life story. Before we could even make a first impression, the foster parents got to read all these stories that were sometimes far-fetched. The result is kids get labeled by what is written in the red book for the rest of their time in care. The foster parent can then say “yay” or “nay” on whether they take you.
In my case, there was a lot happening in the home where I was staying. No one would believe me. I was labeled a compulsive liar and told to write a report on The Boy Who Cried Wolf. That label stuck with me for a long time.
It was also assumed that I had an eating disorder. When I was in a certain home, I had a tendency to use the bathroom a lot. So, everytime I would get up from the dining table to go to the bathroom, they always assumed I was going to purge. Eventually I was not allowed to use the bathroom during meals or snacks. I had to sit for 20 minutes after eating, just so they could make sure I wasn’t throwing up.
I want to use my voice to let people know that what they see in the red book doesn’t always come with the context that’s necessary to understand someone. Don’t believe everything you see on those pages; it isn’t always up to date. Give us a chance to speak up about our lives because no one knows us better than we do!
Kelsey Burton grew up in the foster care system during her teenage years. Hartigan saw her siblings get adopted, which made her want to help create changes in the foster care and adoptive care systems. Hartigan works for Duval County Public Schools and is board chair of the youth advisory board in Jacksonville, Florida.