Coronavirus Wrecked My Transition From Foster Care

I had everything set with my apartment, school, daycare, and services, but now I'm worried.

by Joanna Maestre

I first heard people talk about coronavirus at my school during the first week of March. I go to a vocational school called Co-op Tech, and I am studying to be a graphic designer.

Classmates and teachers talked about the virus, but I was honestly too busy to worry about the few cases that were in New York. I believed it would blow over, so I ignored it.

I had plenty of other things to think about. On a typical day, I had doctor appointments in the morning for my severe migraines. From there, I went straight to school. The migraines make public transportation more draining than people realize. Then, after school, I picked up my 1-year-old son Xavier from daycare and tended to him when we got home.

I ran away from home in the fall of 2017. My parents said they would kill my baby when they found out I was pregnant. I went into foster care that December, and was placed in a Mommy and Me group home for foster care kids who were pregnant or had a child.

The group home was awful. Staff was disrespectful and other girls stole my things and bullied me. Once, a resident threw hot water on me and Xavier, because he was being loud and woke her up.

When I turned 18, I got the opportunity to live in an apartment provided by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which provides public housing, and I didn’t refuse it. The group home felt more dangerous than living in the projects. I moved into my own apartment in the Bronx in October 2019, a few months before I turned 19.

My Support System Disappeared

As part of my transition out of foster care, I applied for and got support services, including family preventive services from an agency called Children’s Aid.

The main person who brings me those services is a caseworker named Karla. I also got visits from a great agency called Nurse Family Partnership (NFP). Someone from NFP visited every two weeks to teach me how to care for my son. I also got home therapy services.

I have also applied for homemaking services to help me do chores and look after Xavier, which is extremely difficult when I get migraines.

Co-op Tech’s parent-teacher conferences were scheduled for March 20. My parents had never attended one of these. I have tried talking to my parents in the last few years, but they are emotionally and physically abusive so now I stay away.

I asked my preventive services worker Karla to attend the parent-teacher conference. She helps me apply for services like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and teaches me new ways to care for Xavier. She is the closest thing I have to a parent. I wanted someone to know about my progress in school, and I know Karla loves seeing me succeed.

On March 11, the school told us those conferences would be held over the phone. I immediately told Karla not to bother with it. I wanted a face-to-face conference where the three of us could discuss my work and what I needed improvement with. It was disappointing.

Then my son’s daycare closed on March 13. Now I had to stay home with him and couldn’t go to school. Xavier missed his school and had trouble adjusting. He was learning a lot at his daycare, which had a set schedule split between learning and playtime. Now he has too much energy and often wrecks the whole house. He keeps asking me to go outside or to daycare, but he has asthma, so I have to be especially careful.

No School, No Nurse, No Doctor, No Dentist

Then on March 21, my Co-op Tech classes switched to remote learning. My lessons on graphic design apps such as InDesign are now on a program called Gmetrix. We are also given YouTube videos to watch, showing things like how to create a duotone or how to use photo manipulation.

The videos are often difficult to learn from because they don’t always have audio or written instructions. Many just show what the person is doing with no slo-mo or proper instructions. It’s hard to follow.

Right after that, I lost my in-home services. We had to change to video calls only, which changed the services drastically. My nurse from NFP can no longer weigh Xavier to check if he’s gaining weight steadily or bring us diapers, wipes, clothing, and other things he needs. I miss sitting with Karla and discussing services that might be beneficial, like a mommy and me playgroup and parenting classes.

And last but certainly not least, all my doctor appointments in March were canceled, including an oral surgery appointment that needed to be done because of tooth pain. My teeth still hurt and I recently noticed that one of my fillings has started to chip and break because it has no crown on it. Doctors are human, so I understand that they need to protect themselves from the virus, but everything happened so suddenly that I truly am agitated.

No College Acceptance, No Summer Job

I applied to three colleges in January. It is now April and I have not heard from any of them. I have not called because I believe that they are closed due to the coronavirus. But I would have at least expected an email from them.

I just learned that the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) will not be held this year. I did the program for the first time last year, working as a receptionist. I was looking forward to getting more work experience through SYEP this summer.

I was on my way to being discharged from foster care, but my court date has been canceled. Which means the process will now take longer to complete. I receive no money or any other benefit from being in care now.

All I get from being in the system is a caseworker who hasn’t helped me with anything, poking into my business and asking me what I’m doing with my life. I feel like workers mostly look for a reason to call ACS on young parents. I’m afraid they’ll try to take Xavier away from me.

Trying to Balance Parenting and Schoolwork

Learning at home is difficult with an intelligent, energetic toddler. We can’t go outside to release all of his energy. In daycare, he used to run around outside until it was time to learn.

To keep him learning I downloaded ABCMouse, which is a child learning website for children ages 2 to about 6. The website teaches children through games. He does about 20 minutes a day since toddlers can’t seem to focus for long periods of time. By next month I will have to pay for the app.

He also watches a lot of “Sesame Street”, which he calls “Elmo.” When I have a school project to do, particularly photo editing, it requires a lot of time. So even if I put Xavier in front of Elmo, he will come to me every 30 minutes needing something.

Some days he cries his lungs out to go outside. Imagine trying to focus on schoolwork with a screaming child trying to get your attention, sometimes by throwing your laptop across the room.

Worrying About Food and Health

One of the scariest aspects of coronavirus is the rising prices of food. I receive food stamps, and I had never used my food stamps as quickly as I did this month. I am afraid of not having enough food during this crisis, which doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.

My partner Taiquan, Xavier’s father, lives with his mother in New Jersey, but he often stays over with me. Taiquan works long hours at a supermarket in Brooklyn. He doesn’t wear a mask because he has the mindset of a teenager that he’s invincible. He showers when he gets into my house, but that’s about it. I wish he would stay home from work some days for the safety of all of us.

Taiquan is supposed to graduate high school this year, and then he plans to join the military. I am worried about how he will do any of this. With everything shut down, he is struggling to get certain documents he needs. He hasn’t signed our son’s birth certificate, which is a long story. He needs to be on Xavier’s birth certificate in order for Xavier to get benefits.

I just want this to end so that everything can get back to normal. I miss my child being in school and learning. I miss my school and the services that help me be a good mom and a productive student and worker.

I have worked hard to build a life for my son and myself after foster care, and now it’s all being threatened.

Learning at home is difficult with an intelligent, energetic toddler.
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