My Foster Care Story: Jeannette Meeks
This story about life in the foster care system was submitted by Jeannette Meeks of Charleston, SC.
I think its very important to bring to light the stories of anyone who has dealt with the foster care system. The are many problems with not only the system itself, but also the lack of help for those who age out. The number of children going into foster care is continually rising and thus so is the number who age out. We need to do better for future generations. I’m very proactive about telling my story in the hopes of simply giving others information about something that is not discussed enough.
I’m originally from Northeast Ohio.
When I was around 4 years old my father was at work and tried cocaine for the first time. He was a machinist and his boss was absent that day. That one time immediately clicked with my father’s addictive personality and our lives quickly became much different.
My parents started going out and leaving us with babysitters a lot. My dad lost his job and struggled to maintain employment for longer than a couple of months. My mother went from being a stay-at-home mom to working nights in factories with my dad. They always worked through temp agencies so they would have cash in the morning to buy drugs.
The neglect of my younger brother Daniel and myself hit us hard.
Of course there was abuse too: mental, physical, emotional.
I remember times without electricity or gas, mostly in the winter. We would huddle around a kerosene heater to boil hot dogs and try to stay warm in the dark. I remember going to our next door neighbors’ houses with my mother while she begged for 5 dollars to feed us. My parents continued working nights but they never had a dime to their names. My mother committed welfare fraud for money. We had no washer or dryer, our clothes were always donated to us. We never got birthday gifts, and our Christmas gifts came from charities. At one point our house was foreclosed on and we stayed in a hotel provided by the mayor of our city because my parents had convinced him the city was foreclosing on them without notice of any kind! They were the smartest drug addicts I’d ever have contact with.
When I was about 8 years old my parents started leaving us alone at home while they left until late into the evenings. Everyone around us knew what was going on and so many people tried to help us. We were constantly being interviewed by social workers at school. They asked what we ate at home and they wanted to know why our clothes were dirty. Neighbors would place calls about the neglect on a regular basis. It got so bad that someone even reported we had wild dogs in our home with us. They all tried so hard.
We ended up moving a lot. By the time the greatest night of my life happened in 2000, I had gone to 6 high schools, I had been sexually abused by my parents, and I couldn’t see a future for myself.
I know everyone has their own beliefs but there have been times that my prayers have been heard. I know this for sure. I prayed every night to be taken from this situation.
In February of 2000, it happened.
I was a junior in high school at this point. One night during a fight between my parents, someone in the neighborhood called the cops. My mother had warrants for her arrest (due to the welfare fraud) and my father was suicidal. He said he didn’t want us placed with any family members. My mother’s family would keep us from them forever, my father’s relatives were all drug addicts. He told the cops, “Just put them in foster care.”
It wasn’t as simple as an overnight stay… And within a couple of months my parents had ruined our chances of ever reuniting. They didn’t stick to the case plan that was set in place. We were told we would be in foster care until we turned 18.
My brother actually thrived in our foster home! He became outgoing and suddenly he was the most popular kid at school even though he was just a freshman. I, on the other hand, hated every moment.
We were not abused, we were actually placed with a decent foster family, but it just wasn’t my home. My foster parents were a bit stricter than others, but now as an adult I can see why.
I was given the choice to either be adopted at 16 or stay in foster care until I turned 18 and be out on the streets. At first I chose adoption for very selfish reasons. I was on track to graduate high school at 17 and go away to college (I had started early). I knew if I had a family I could get loans for college and possibly have a normal spot in my life. After some time I chose to wait out my “sentence” and stay in care until adulthood.
Leaving to go to college was not easy though. I was not an adult, and I was in danger of not graduating on time. Because I had gone to 6 different schools I had taken many courses several times and was short on credits. I took the little bit of money I had made hosting at a local restaurant and bought some home schooling courses. I did in fact graduate at 17.
Despite the fact that I was able to graduate, I attempted suicide that summer. Thank God I made it through. After petitioning a judge I was granted the ability to leave foster care at 17 to go to Kent State University in Ohio.
From there I worked several jobs at once, went to college off and on, and helped support my brother Daniel when he got out of foster care a few years later. I never got my degree. None of the other children I had met in foster care did either though.
I tried drugs, I got arrested for a DUI, and I could see no stability in my future…
In my late 20’s I met my husband, we got married when I was 31, and at 33 we welcomed our son Oliver (we call him Ollie) into the world.
In the past I had brushed all of those horrible memories of being in foster care, and the daily adulthood struggle of making sure I wasn’t homeless, aside. I chalked it up to the fact that my parents had mental issues and such is life.
But once I became a mother, something switched in me. What happened to me was not okay. Nothing that happened to me in my childhood can be excused. I was set up for failure…
Well not only am I alive, but now:
I’m married to a man who treats me like a queen.
I have a beautiful son who got my eyes.
I have had success as a bank employee regardless of the fact that I never graduated college.
I live in a home my husband and I had built for us last year.
Though I’m not rich, I never have to worry about not having clothes, food, or shelter.
In 2018 I decided it was my time to give back. I am now a volunteer for a non-profit in Charleston, S.C. called Lowcountry Orphan Relief. It was started by a guardian ad litem who noticed a lot of children were entering foster care with very few possessions - and sometimes with nothing at all. She started the organization as a way to provide care kits with two weeks worth of necessities for children entering care. My role with them is “Neighborhood Captain”.
As a Neighborhood Captain I share my story and collect donations from people throughout my large community. I’ve been a part of two fundraisers for residents in my neighborhood and even fully organized a fundraiser at the local coffee shop as well.
I also recently became a public speaker. At the end of June, I gave a 20-minute speech to a local rotary club about my experience in care and why Lowcountry Orphan Relief is such a vital resource for abused/neglected children. My plan is to continue speaking about my personal stories and problems within the foster care system.
I’ve also started writing a memoir and plan to do much more with my life. I want to show children that no matter what start they have in life, they can have normalcy and security. It has been very hard work, but my reward is being able to give my son a better life than I was given.
This is just a snapshot of my story. I am now 35 and feel proud to be a success story.
Thank you for reading!
If you have a story to tell as it relates to foster care, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.