An Eagle County foster child’s story
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado –Like most 18-year-olds who have just graduated from high school, Connie has a lot on her mind.
She is finishing up a college scholarship application and thinking about a summer job. Some moments she is excited about heading off to the adult world of college; other moments she is tempted to stave off growing up by staying home with the family she loves.
The talkative young woman with the brown hair and brown eyes likes both hip-hop and “regular” music, loves to ride horses and snap photographs, and has an unusual talent for making goat cheese.
What makes her different from most other people her age is the fact that she grew up in the foster care system. Removed from her birth home at the age of one-and-a-half because of abuse and neglect, she was a troubled child whose history includes nine different foster homes in California and Colorado, one failed adoption and extensive therapy.
She found her “forever” home in Eagle County four years ago with guardian parents uniquely qualified to help Connie with her special needs. Now that she is 18-, Connie is legally emancipated from the foster care system, and comfortable enough to frankly discuss its impact on her life.
“Going through foster home after foster home stunk. But every home I was in also helped me to mature and grow,” Connie says, “They each taught me a different lesson.”
The combination of neglect, abuse and the lack of a mother figure in her first three years created issues that have followed Connie throughout her life. She suffered from “reactive attachment disorder,” or RAD, which can affect a child’s ability to thrive and form relationships. She had trust issues with her various foster parents. She also is bi-polar and will always take medication for that disorder.
Looking back, the young woman says that without foster care, she would have been completely lost. Although she remembers her various foster families as “mostly kind,” the caretakers did not always understand how to deal with Connie’s complex issues.
Each move to a new home hurt her a little more. She always felt that she didn’t quite fit in. It was embarrassing to explain to curious playmates why she moved from family to family.
There was a pattern. In every foster home she started out happy but then she would start pushing the family away before they could reject her. Well-meaning caseworkers would step in to try to help, but did not always understand the issues. Connie was a troubled child who couldn’t be healed.
“I was pretty messed up … I was sad, but I couldn’t show it. I had to be strong,” Connie says.
She eventually ended up in Colorado, with adoptive parents. But Connie’s many issues were too much for the parents to handle. That’s when the Eagle County couple she now considers to be her parents signed on as her legal guardians and brought her to their rural home. The woman that Connie calls “mom” is a therapeutic parenting specialist who specializes in reactive attachment disorder.
“They are my mom and dad. I love them very much. They will be grandparents for my children,” Connie says.
Eagle County caseworker Lisa Griggs says Connie’s guardian parents stepped into her life at a crucial time, when there was considerable turmoil in the young teen’s life.
“They could see the potential for her,” Griggs says.
When some incidents indicated more care was needed, Connie’s guardians arranged for her to spend some time in a residential treatment center. There, a particularly effective therapist was able to help Connie deal with her issues in a relatively short time, and get back to the home and guardians that she loves.
“I feel great. I’m totally healed from RAD now,” says Connie. “Things are a lot easier. You have to deal with what you’ve got.”
She wants to go to college, and become a therapist. She would like to work with teenagers who have reactive attachment disorder. In fact, that is one of the reasons she agreed to an interview.
“I’m pretty open about this. Anything I can do to help parents or children … people need to know about this stuff,” she says.
Griggs says that Connie’s success stems from a number of factors. Connie did bring away some positive lessons from the string of foster homes.
“Foster homes do their best to give what they need to give at that time in a child’s life,” says Griggs.
The caseworker also credits Connie’s motivation and resiliency.
“I feel confident she will accomplish her goals, and other children will benefit as a result,” notes Griggs.
Connie, who hopes to find her birth mother some day, is looking toward the future. She plans to move out on her own, go to college and get a job.
“I would like to have a family some day. I think my experience taught me that I could be a good parent, whether I have an adopted child or a birth child,” she says.