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Former San Diego Foster Child Becomes Advocate For Change

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May 4, 2015 1:17 p.m.

Former Foster Child Becomes Advocate For Change

GUEST:

Georgette Todd, author, "Foster Girl"

Melanie Delgado, staff attorney, Children's Advocacy Institute

Related Story: Former San Diego Foster Child Becomes Advocate For Change

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS the Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. How does a person rise above a turbo child to live a successful life? Sometimes all it takes is one caring individual to make a difference. For those individuals are few and far between so foster children often struggled unsuccessfully to overcome their painful backgrounds. May is designated as National Foster Care Awareness month, good time to checking to see how foster care is handled in San Diego. We welcome young woman whose searing memoir tells us about her childhood to old with violence, abuse and neglect and we will hear from a local local advocate about reforms in California's foster care system. Joining me is Georgette Todd, she's the author of the memoir "Foster Girl." Georgia, thank you for coming it.

Thank you for having me.

And Melanie Delgado a staff attorney with the children's advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego Law school and welcome Melanie.

Thank you very much.

Georgette, your book is raw. It is almost painfully honest. Why did you want to tell your story to the world?

Because I felt hasn't been told in that way. There's very few "Foster Girl" or foster care memoirs out there and the ones that I have read so far, I felt they were good but I just felt there were a little polished and I really wanted to give that Rob perspective and try to relive on the pH what actually happened to me. I just felt that that kind of story hasn't been told you in the way that I chose to tell it.

Just for a little background on what was a teenager when she had you. Her family was pretty dysfunctional and then your mom was shot and partially paralyzed when you were still a child. You in the book to include the newspaper clipping out of the mangrove back in 1984 where the incident happened. When Georgette where you aware that something wasn't right with your family?

When I was going up and lemon Grove I had a number -- neighborhood kid come up to me and said one day one time white our police cars always at your house? I didn't have an answer and I was embarrassed. That's when I knew and also this always that ominous French in the background, people coming in and out and drugs and parties. I was always around it but my mom was actually good for a long time keeping us away from it. Until years later.

You write in detail as you say the drug abuse that's going on in your family being sexually molested by yours step that. I'm wondering wasn't hard to write about this or was this a release for you?

Both, but it was more of a release. I always used writing as a way -- that was my chosen form of outlet. Some people self medicate through drugs or alcohol. I chose to write and I had quite a story to tell so I had a gold mine of material to draw from and as I learned how to write to my mills -- program we would have exercises like writing your parents outside the relation to you. Who are they as character? Who are they as a person before they became apparent? I found those kinds of exercises really fascinating and it really help me with my book.

When you say that it was a release it was also however very difficult. How did you remember in such detail some of the things that happened to you?

I wrote the bulk of my book when I was 19. I just knew I went through so much and I journaled a lot so the memories were fresh and I just couldn't believe my life and I felt disassociated with it in a way. It is a form of survival so I just wrote it all down. Then when I went to mills for graduate school I actually did some research and got a copy of my case file and that really brought my book to all new level and I started using pieces as a back story from my narrative. It was really instrumental and it really was cathartic for me because I turn something so ugly into something beautiful. I turned it into art. I feel like I tamed and mastered the beast in a way, I know it sounds weird to say but I want this book to help others understand what foster care really is. Especially in San Diego County. The only former foster youth in San Diego to have written this book.

Considering the violence and abuse that happened in your family when you were still with them, it is a wonder you when your sister weren't in foster care earlier. What finally got authorities involved and got you into care?

I did drugs when I was 13. I had an overdose and in response to my stepfather abusing me I just wanted to disappear and to slowly die. So I went to the hospital and I was revived. While I was right I went to the hospital and that's when the police arrested Mad Dog, there was an investigation and then my mother died while my step father was in jail. Then my grandfather took care of me but there was already an investigation going on and then there was a drug raid and that's when the authorities came in.

Is one of the problems with foster get the fact that kids usually have to be subjected to years of abuse or neglect before they are actually taken into care?

I think that is a problem. I think though that the county has to balance not taking kids to soon with protecting them. But I do think that it needs to be closely monitored and that officials need to really take seriously when an allegation is made.

I'm sorry, Melanie, how many children are in approximately in foster care in San Diego?

About 3100 right now.

Is the county equipped, is our foster care system equipped to deal with that amount of children?

I think our foster care system has the infrastructure, but they -- there are gaps. For exampleSan Diego County could greatly benefit from increasing an increase in the number of quality foster parents. Foster homes are by far the best place for a foster child to be placed and so we could benefit from an additional capacity there. We also benefited from additional capacity for older foster youth in transitional transitional housing programs. They are lacking. And we could benefit from courts that are well-funded and the attorneys dependency attorneys with caseloads are manageable San Diego County dependency attorneys have about 177 clients per attorney and that's actually the maximum that is recommended. In other counties it is worse but San Diego needs to make sure that we continue to fund our dependency attorneys so they can be the voice for these children in court can be effective

Those are some areas we need to look at.

Georgette, you are in care with your younger sister. You lived in group homes and in foster homes. Didn't seem to that many foster parents did not know what you are going through?

Evidently. -- definitely. I have to say that I don't want to slam foster parents because I had a really amazing one who did save my life and I'm very close to this day but I had a couple of them who just I have the space for you and an open bed and that was it. You feel like you are a guest in someone else's own on because you are. That's what you are. Do you feel like you will be effected at any time. Which is also true if a foster parent if you rub them the wrong way one day they can just call social worker and say I cannot take care of this kid and you are out. And that actually happened to me, just one argument.

You are gone.

What is life like in group homes?

It is a lot more fun, but I'm being honest, it is a lot more fun because there's no parent, but that's the problem. It is not good for you. There's staff, they are overworked and I think underpaid and a lot of them were really young. It was just you are surrounded by a lots of peers and it is not healthy environment to grow well.

When you were in a foster home with a foster mom and a foster dad, were you treated like a stranger? Did it seem to you sometimes that perhaps the adults were even a little frayed of you guys?

Definitely. You always do like the other, evil I can NexTraq and a movie, there's the main players, there's the biological kids and sometimes long-term foster kids were adopted kids who have been there forever. You're the new person and good luck with getting the parents to believe you in the story if you get into an argument which happens with all kids. But when your foster care it is just a little heightened and the stakes are really high for a foster kid. You cannot make mistakes.

Looking back what would have helped you when you were in foster care do you think?

I will use my last foster home because that really helped me a lot. She was a high school teacher at point Loma so she was around teenagers. She didn't expect me to be perfect. What teenager is perfect? Come on. But she didn't expect me to be perfect. She didn't have these great expectations. She just said look, you've been through a lot and I'm really sorry that you've got to a lot, but here is your chance for normal life. I want you to stay here, I want you to finish her Skully and go into college. I will teach you how to balance a budget and teach you how to open a big account and how to drive. Just normal everyday things that parents teach their kids. But she didn't have that expectation like be grateful to me and she just becomes down to expectations and she treated me like a normal kid. Not with kid gloves and the you've got to look at everybody -- I responded to that but not everybody does. Some kids are handled, a lot differently like my sister so she made it a little more care and attention and I did and she did. She gave her more attention accordingly.

I want to get back to that but first I want to go to Melanie. There's this new program, this new approach, I don't think it would've worked in Georgette's case but it is called kinship care. Tell us about that.

Catchup care is when relatives of dialed in foster care take that child and care for that child.

They are compensated for doing so, is that right?

They are reimbursed, yes.

Reimbursed for the expenses and that is new?

It is been around for a while, but San Diego has been improving its kinship care programs. It has been in San Diego as well as the state of California. There are some family finding it is called is improving about with the technology that counties are more able to find family members that they may not have been able to find before. And also there's a new program called the approve relative caregiver program. That passed last year. That will reimburse relatives, relative caregivers at the same rate that nonrelative caregivers are reimbursed. Because up until the passage of this law, relative caregivers were reimbursed for the care of foster children and a much lower rate than Ron -- nonrelative caregivers and hope is that increasing this reimbursement rate will allow for more relative people to afford to take in children. So it is not necessarily competent a them, we just want to allow them to be able to afford to care for these children.

There's also Melanie a lot of criticism about how foster kids are virtually abandoned when they turn 18 and eight out of the system. Is there anything being done to change that?

Yes, actually in a few years ago a law was passed called a B12 and discs did a foster care and it allows you to stay in foster care until they are 21. If they would like to state foster care they have to be either enrolled in college or employed for at least 80 hours a month or unable to do either of those things because of a medical problem. Or they need to be pursuing an activity that will eliminate a barrier to a point meant meant for themselves pursuing them so pursuing employment or pursuing training. Then they can live in supervised independent living placement which helps them to obtain the independent living skills that they will need to succeed when they leave care where they can live in a transitional housing program which is called -- and provide them with some supports and services if their night -- not quite ready to live an own yet.

I'm going to pass board with Georgette's life and ask you what you have been doing since college?

Before I answer that I wanted to correct respectfully wrecked an earlier point. I think age of care would have helped. I actually reunited with some relatives from the South actually some Southern Southern belles in my family but they tell me to Facebook and also have other relatives find me on ancestry.com and white -- I didn't know these relatives business in. If we have the software in place to make it easier for workers to access these relatives I want to --

You are exactly right and you were up in 11 different foster care facility.

Correct.

Since you had your final foster mother and she was able to really connect with you and help you over the transition, what have you've been doing since college?

I have worked full-time just the 925 until a few years ago. But I worked in Alameda County and I did work with foster kids. WhatI did is I was the PAs on between former foster youth and service providers and I was the go in between in a foster youth I trained them to be consultants. It they they had a lots of raw energy and ask process ideas but how to channel that in a productive way and make change in foster care system and I'm very proud of that work.

Your sister didn't fare quite as well as you, how was she doing now?

Actually she's doing amazing now but initially yes, she did have a harder transition than I did. She couched surfed, she never went fully through college but her story is more reflective of what happens to former foster that my story. I'm the weird one. I'm less than 3% of the national lesson 3% former foster youth graduate from college and died the last 3%. Unfortunately.

Congratulations to you.

Thank you. Except the student loan debt, don't get me started on that.

[Laughter]

Georgette Todd will be signing copies of her memoir at barns & Noble in Mission Valley and I've been speaking with Georgette Todd and Melanie Delgado. Thank you very much.

Thank you.