My mom left me at a bus stop when I was six years old. She just said, “Stay here. Don’t move.” Being an obedient child, I sat and didn’t move. I waited and waited, and eventually I got up and started walking, which was when the police found me.
At first I was lucky to go into foster care, but lucky was only until Grade 9 when my foster mom had to go overseas. When none of her family members could take me, I went into a children’s home – one of several I would live in until I left the system at 18.
From the moment you’re taken into care, as a child you feel you did something wrong. You don’t have to do anything wrong to feel that. You can’t control the situation; it’s just that your parents are not fit to be parents; or that you’ve been abused physically or sexually, and going into state care is what’s seen as the best option.
Children going into state care blame themselves
I’m not saying all the children in that situation are saints, because there are abusive kids as well. But we were all at that age where we gave our own share of trouble.
One of the homes wasn’t that bad, but the housemother had her preferences. At another home, it was more like a mini female prison where you had to learn to be strong. There was beating, yes, but for me the single worst thing that happened was not physical. It was coming up to CXC exam time and the housemother, who already had her favourites, told me, “You won’t amount to nutting good.”
It’s hard enough knowing that you don’t have any family who cares for you. When persons who are supposed to help you are telling you something like that, it not only crushes you but it may also have you thinking that you don’t serve a purpose on earth. You think that things would probably be better off if you were dead, because it’s not like you have anyone to miss you.
Daily challenge to maintain self-esteem
Whenever the staff would open their mouth it would be lot of tearing down. Fortunately I had self-esteem because my foster mother instilled values and I had real friends at school who would look after and encourage me. So I decided that when all these negatives were thrown at me I would use them as motivation.
When I tell people about my life they are always like, “Seriously, you couldn’t tell!” But being a former child in state care doesn’t have a face.
It took me a while to be where I am today. Through it all, I still had to find a way to go back to school to get some additional subjects. My first real job was packing bags in a supermarket, then a call centre and then security. Now, I work for the government of Jamaica.
I want to go back to help children in state care
My goal has always been to become a social worker. I am currently pursuing my Associate of Science degree in Social Work, and I intend to do my Bachelors in this field. I want to help children who are going through what I did.
Even if it’s just talking to them and telling them, “your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come. You’re an actual human being, and this isn’t going to be your whole life.” Just one positive word of encouragement goes a long way. That’s why I am here telling my story.
*Name of author changed to protect identity
UNICEF and Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) have forged a new partnership to address improvements needed for children in state care. As part of the initiative, JFJ is undertaking the most comprehensive study of its kind to examine the state care landscape in Jamaica, including quality of care for wards of the state.