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“I didn’t know how the system worked, because no one told me that foster parents are not supposed to treat you like this.”

Soledad is a woman now in her mid-20s, who migrated from Honduras and arrived in the U.S. when she was 14. After experiencing abuse and abandonment, Soledad was placed in the foster care system in the Bay Area shortly after her arrival.

So they took me to a house in Rohnert Park. The foster woman was from Mexico and she was kind of old. The social worker introduced us. The foster mom said, “Go to your room,” and that was it. She ran a daycare in her home, so kids would come every day, little babies, from seven-month-olds to three-year-olds. The first day, she treated me well, gave me food, but after that, she barely gave me anything to eat. She made me clean the house. She said, “Today, it’s your turn to wash the bathrooms, to mop the floor.” So I was working for her without pay. She put me in summer school, and I passed out three times in school because I was starving. One day I passed out in the middle of the street, and the neighbors called an ambulance.

I was fifteen, and this was the first time that I was back in school since primary school in Honduras, when I was eleven. I was trying to find someone to talk to, to make some friends. I didn’t speak any English at all because I was really shy. I was going to class, but I was outside of everything. Back in Honduras, I was always the one who didn’t know anything, the one with bad grades, the one who didn’t do the homework, the lazy one.  So I had that idea of myself.

When I came here, I was happy to go to school. I had new ideas.

I met new friends, like Paz, who always brought me apples and sometimes gave me her lunch. One time, Paz brought me to her house and her mom tried to help me. She said, “Why don’t you call the social worker? Tell them about the situation that you are in, without food to eat.”  The foster program paid the foster mom around $600 per month to take care of me. She’d take me to garage sales and buy me used clothes with holes in them, for one, two dollars. Then she used the money from social services to buy things for her daughter at the mall and gave the receipts to the social worker. I saw all this, but she’d say, “You’d better be nice to me because the other homes are worse. I’m treating you right.”

I didn’t know how the system worked, because no one told me that foster parents are not supposed to treat you like this.

Even though the social worker spoke Spanish, she never asked me,“Soledad, how is everything going?” They’re supposed to talk to the child first. But we never had a private conversation about what was happening in the house. I was scared, and nobody was there for me. 

Another foster girl from San Francisco came to the house. Her name was Julia, and she saw the way that they were treating me. She spoke English and was born here, so she said, “No, this isn’t right, Soledad.” She told her social worker, “You need to talk with Soledad.” I was in the hospital many times because I was passing out at school, so the doctor also told that social worker, “I don’t know what’s going on with Soledad, why she passes out all the time. She says she sleeps and eats well.” I didn’t tell them because I was afraid that my foster mother would punish me. So finally the social worker took me aside, and I told her that it was because I don’t eat, that the foster mom doesn’t even give food to the babies she’s taking care of, and the mothers don’t know how their children are not being cared for. The social worker looked surprised and said, “We’re not taking you back there.” I never went back to that house. She picked me up from the hospital and brought me to live with a new family.

My new foster parents greeted me with flowers and I felt welcome. They had three boys, a nice house, and were really warm, clean, educated people from Mexico. Their daughter had died at age one and would have been the same age as me. Lucy, the new foster mom, was nice and I had a good relationship with her. I felt like I was in the family that I had always dreamed about having. 

Interview with Soledad

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