SEASON 2 FINALE- Youth Voice: Stigma in Foster Care

Youth in DCF custody can feel stigmatized by the many stereotypes and common misconceptions about their experiences.  Jaylyn and Ashley were two youth in custody who are now young adults; they discuss how the assumptions made by the professionals and caregivers in their lives have impacted them, and they offer thoughts for improving relationships with youth in care.

Host Info:

Kate Cunningham, MS is a training & coaching specialist with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership .  Kate is a licensed School Counselor who started her career in child welfare in 2005 as a Family Engagement Specialist with Easter Seals.  In this role, she focused on working with kin and adoptive families to support the youth in their care, as well as, facilitating Family Safety Planning Meetings and coordinating Family Group Conferences.  She also supervised Family Time Coaches before becoming an assessment and investigation worker in the Burlington DCF office.  This DCF role was not long lived though because when the opportunity arose to support the DCF workforce and promote growing their practices, Kate took it and joined the Child Welfare Training Partnership in 2012. Secretly, she takes every opportunity possible now to talk with youth and families, so spending time with Jaylynn and Ashley, the two youth in this podcast who had been through the DCF system at different times in their lives, was an incredible gift.

Guest Info:

Jaylyn VanFossen

Ashley Martell


Cassie Gillespie (00:02):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to Welcome to the Field, a podcast for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. Being in foster care is difficult for many reasons. But one big reason is the stigma that comes along with being in care. Today, your host, Kate Cunningham speaks with two young adults about their experiences and the challenges they faced with stigma while they were in foster care. These two amazing young people also chat with Kate about some of the tips they’d like to offer caregivers and workers to help combat the stigma. Happy listening!

Kate Cunningham (00:38):

Thank you, Cassie. This is Kate and I am sitting here with two lovely young women, Jaylyn and Ashley. And I’m going to let you each introduce yourself.

Ashley Martell (00:48):

I am Ashley Martell. I spent three years in foster care in my later ages, and then I ended up aging out. But I also had my earliest experience in foster care at the age of four.

Kate Cunningham (01:03):

Thank you, Ashley.

Jaylyn VanFossen (01:05):

I’m Jaylyn VanFossen. I was taken into custody when I was 13 years old and then I was adopted when I was 18.

Kate Cunningham (01:12):

Well, thank you both so much. We’re here today to talk to Jaylyn and Ashley about some kind of common misperceptions about being in foster care and some experiences and ideas that may help for carers and DCF workers to support youth who may end up in foster care. As we start, what might be some common misperceptions that you’ve heard or that have come up for you when, when people find out that you’ve been in foster care?

Jaylyn VanFossen (01:47):

I think what’s like, I think the funniest thing is I remember in school, in high school and like people would find out that I was in foster care because I wasn’t really scared to like talk about it. That’s a big part of my life. I’ve had a lot of people ask me what I did to get in foster care. And I just think it’s really funny that like, that’s their understanding of what’s going on.

Kate Cunningham (02:09):

Yeah. Assuming it was your fault that, that you were in there.

Jaylyn VanFossen (02:13):


Ashley Martell (02:14):

Yeah. I think the most common thing I really experienced was just kind of being grouped in the same category as other foster kids and kind of being pushed to circulate in the same social circles and kind of being like singled out on, like, we’d get asked questions on like history and they’d ask you about your life. And if there was anything in history that you could relate to and they would automatically just like point to me, because I was somebody who had like a triggering past that could go back to trauma.

Kate Cunningham (02:48):

Yeah so there were a lot of assumptions. It sounds like that were made. We were talking earlier. I noticed I’m going to, if it’s okay to bring this back up, that you two had a common experience together in school. I think it was.

Jaylyn VanFossen (03:01):

Yeah. So me and Ashley actually know each other from high school and French class, our teacher rearranged the seating chart, so we could sit next to each other. And what she told me the reason was for is she’s like, she’s new, she’s new. You were new this year. You’ll you’ll get along, make her feel welcome. And then I later found out in that class. So that same, very class that we were both in foster care.

Ashley Martell (03:23):

Yeah. It wasn’t even like the first day of school I had started halfway through a semester and the first person, the French teacher introduced me to was Jaylyn. And she put me right next to her and just assumed that we would hit it off and become friends.

Jaylyn VanFossen (03:39):

I mean, she wasn’t wrong but bold assumption.

Kate Cunningham (03:44):

You became friends for different reasons, then, then just that shared experience,

Jaylyn VanFossen (03:48):

Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (03:51):

What went through your head when, when that happened? What was going on?

Ashley Martell (03:54):

I think the first thing that I thought was is this woman crazy? Like why would she put me with the only other foster kid in the room and not like, allow me to figure out who in this classroom I could get along with.

Jaylyn VanFossen (04:06):

Yeah. I mean, at first I was weirded out. Cause I mean, that was like, I don’t know. I was like really nervous about my foster family and like telling me, I didn’t know how it would make people feel. Cause some of the reaction I had gotten was like, not the greatest and like, you know, asking me what I did. And so I just didn’t feel like explaining everything all the time. And so when I mentioned like, I don’t call me, I didn’t call them mom and dad, I was just like, my foster parents said I was a little nervous, but then she was like, oh

Ashley Martell (04:33):

Yeah, I kind of like explained it to you. I was, I was just kinda like, you know, I explained why I was coming in halfway through the semester and I was like, yeah, I’m here with my foster parents. I just was placed with them. And I’m not like I wasn’t using my last name. I was using their last name in the school system. So I was like, kind of explaining that to her. Yeah. And it kinda went from there with like other people’s assumptions on, I like guess we fed into the stigma of all foster kids kind of stick together.

Jaylyn VanFossen (05:05):

Well, I mean, there’s the, the assumption that all foster kids stick together. And also there’s also the part where like when you’re a foster kid you’re kind of alone. So whenever it’s a little nice too, to find somebody that you can relate to and connect with like that, because there’s not many people who can, who you can talk to about their past like that without judgment or like without even them realizing they’re judging you because they just simply don’t understand.

Ashley Martell (05:31):

And it’s just like some of the comments come off as like super judgmental, even though they’re not meaning it as a judgmental comment, they’ll be like, well, what happened to you after they find out you didn’t do anything wrong? They’re like, well, why are you in care? And sometimes you just don’t want to tell people

Jaylyn VanFossen (05:48):

It’s nobody’s business, but your own, it’s kind of inappropriate. The amount of times that people asking me to explain like my past. Tell me about, tell me about your trauma. No, thank you. I’m good.

Ashley Martell (05:59):

Or they expect like in-depth details. I was very open about being in foster care and I never really hit it. But when people would ask me to like go in detail, I was like, that’s a step too far. You can ask me about like some of my experiences in foster care, but not asking me to give you every detail of why I’m in care or details of like my personal life.

Kate Cunningham (06:25):

Yeah. When you think back to that and just even thinking for any advice that you might give community members, teachers caregivers and DCF, what would make it more seamless? I guess

Jaylyn VanFossen (06:40):

I’m not even sure. I don’t know how to respond to that because I mean, whereas our, our teacher was definitely out of line when she like sat us down at each other and like said, I think you’ll get along just because we were both in foster care. I’m also very grateful for that because like Ashley helped me through a very hard time in my, my life. And especially during like being in foster care and I’m very grateful to have know her, to have been introduced to her and to have been friends with her. So I, I don’t know. I don’t know how to respond to that. Cause I mean, there’s like two sides of that coin where it’s like extremely inappropriate, but like also ended up being a really good experience.

Ashley Martell (07:16):

I feel like they need to understand like coming from someone who like even after being in foster care, I understand trauma. Uand like I have a background in trauma now and I have an education in trauma. Uthey need like, we need more education in what it means to be trauma informed and how to go about that because we definitely wouldn’t have been put in that situation if our teacher was really informed on how her putting us together could possibly create this really traumatic situation where we’re both like feeding off of the situations we’ve come from.

Jaylyn VanFossen (07:54):

Yeah. That’s a, that’s another risk. Exactly. Like it’s very typical for a traumatized people to just create more trauma and just not do very great with each other.

Kate Cunningham (08:06):

Yeah. So you, you two really got lucky. It was just that sense of you get along and I’ve witnessed you and your banter and, and your, your relationship and it’s, it is truly a very mutually respectful and fun relationship that you do seem to have.

Jaylyn VanFossen (08:24):

I have, but I have met foster kids. I just do not get along with, and if by chance, one of them were to have been assigned a seat next to me. It does because we were both in foster care. I, it would have been a bad experience for the whole class because it’s just, it’s, it’s not, it’s not good to make the assumption.

Kate Cunningham (08:42):

And when we we’d talk about some of this is really trying to kind of debunk like myths, right. About being in foster care and talk about how to best support youth who do end up in foster care, what works really well in a foster home or a situation to feel like you have that, that sense of belonging and that you kind of found a place that felt like home.

Ashley Martell (09:08):

I don’t know. I don’t think I really had that experience. I, as I said before, I aged out of the system and I never really found like that one placement that worked for me. I think Jaylyn could probably speak to this more than I could. Yeah.

Jaylyn VanFossen (09:23):

My adoptive mother is, she works very hard to, to be trauma informed because she’s now adopted me and my little brother and has been a foster parent for five years. And she cares a lot. So she’s, she’s tried really hard to really understand what I’ve been going through and where I’m coming from and why some of the things I do that like, even, I don’t understand I’m, I’ve only been with her for two years, so I’m just trying to think of some, some instances where I felt like really at home. I mean, it’s just like kind of those moments you always wish you had with your parents. Like every I’m in college now. I’m not, I’m not home anymore, but every night when she was making dinner nearly every night, I would go and sit at the counter and we would talk while she made dinner. And just like, you know, that, that was our time to like catch up together. And it was, I don’t know, that was just a nice routine and experience to just be able to connect with somebody after a long day and like have a safe person. Cause I know a lot of kids in foster care don’t have that safe person. So I was like I’m very lucky with the outcome of my experience because a lot of teenagers really just don’t don’t get that.

Kate Cunningham (10:31):

Is there anything you would let a DCF worker know for the situation of either placement or having that relationship with you that would support you feeling, feeling heard and listened to?

Ashley Martell (10:46):

I think a lot of DCF workers really put all of their eggs in one basket when it comes to a foster kid, I know they try their hardest, but they also believe that every placement might be your last, even though you’re telling them like, Hey, this isn’t working out. They believe that some part of you is going to make it work.

Jaylyn VanFossen (11:05):

Yeah. I mean, that’s just not reality, especially for teenagers. And it’s, I feel like there needs to be more thought involved with placements when I was first taken into custody. And still in my emergency placement, my social worker sat down with me and actually created a list. Like my personality lists like things. I like things that just like what I was like, what I like to do and sent that out with the placement email. And it’s funny, cause that’s how I’ve been with my mom. My mom is my adoptive mother, but I was placed with her before. And then I moved out for two years and then moved back with her. So the first time I was with her, I, I was her first foster kid. And the reason she decided to even take a 13 year old, she was planning on doing like 10 year olds. The reason she even decided to take a 13 year old was because she read what we had written and I was a really good fit for their family. So I think there needs to be like more of that. It also just helps the kid too, because it’s like, you know, like it’s, it helps the kid find a place where they’re going to fit in and like something that may, will last a little bit longer.

Ashley Martell (12:07):

I think it’s also really important to understand that the process of becoming a foster parent isn’t really that extensive and I’ve met so many people who have become foster parents that really just shouldn’t be foster parents because they don’t have the right, like they don’t meet the right criteria, I guess. And we need to look a little bit more into like, why people want to be foster parents before we give them the foster license.

Jaylyn VanFossen (12:36):

Yeah I don’t think a lot of foster parents even realize what they’re getting into either. Like there’s the unqualified foster parents and then the process not being as extensive as it should be. And definitely not as trauma informed informing as it should be. And then there’s also the foster parents who go in and they’re like, oh, I’m just going to like take care of this kid whose family can’t and you know, like help them. But being a foster parents really hard foster kids are difficult. We have trauma and it’s not just like, we’re not just like any other kid. You can’t just like, take us in like treat us like your own kid because we’re not, we have a history that doesn’t involve you. And that requires a different point of view and a different approach.

Kate Cunningham (13:16):

Yeah. And when you think back again, what, or just thinking now, what would be really important for foster parents to know before even getting into involved in this process?

Ashley Martell (13:28):

Everything you do takes a toll on our lives. I have situations where I was put in a foster placement and was, I was told that this was my pre-adoptive placement. I got really attached. And then they realized kind of what they had signed up for and said, listen, we’re not ready for this. And that took a really emotional, like toll on me because I had invested so much time and effort into integrating myself into their family just to hear them say like, Hey, sorry, but you’re not going to be with us for much longer. And that really kind of destroys a person.

Kate Cunningham (14:08):

Yeah. It’s hard to feel they weren’t ready. Right. And I’ve heard you say Ashley a couple of times and that there seem to be a lot of responsibility on you to make this situation work again. What would you, how would, what would you want foster parents or DCF workers to know kind of given that lens?

Ashley Martell (14:29):

I feel like it’s kind of this thing that every foster, every child in foster care goes through this like feeling of, I need to do this because I clearly did something wrong before and we have this like stigma upon ourselves that makes us feel like we are the reason we were in foster care. So DCF workers and like foster parents really need to understand that we already have the stigma. And if you feed into that, like feeling of wrongdoing, that’s going to stick with us for a really long time. And it took years of therapy for me to realize that nothing I did was wrong in that situation. And I never did anything to make it not work. It was just like timing. And knowing now that some of these foster parents that had put in their time now have other foster kids that are adopting it’s all situational. And you really need to look into like, are these foster parents wanting a teenager? Are they wanting a youth? Are they wanting somebody who’s an infant? These are things that aren’t really looked at. They’re kind of like, Hey, you want a kid? You’re going to get ages one month to 19 because sometimes we have youth that are still in care after 18.

Kate Cunningham (15:59):

Yeah. So, so really I think what I’m hearing is just really be, be aware of what you are stepping into, be knowledgeable. And I’ve heard you both say the trauma informed, right. Understand how trauma affects youth.

Jaylyn VanFossen (16:14):

Yeah. And I think just, I think every foster kid wants, they want that placement to be their last placement. So they try, but like, it’s really not in our control and it has nothing to do with us. But when it fails, it feels like it was. Exactly like Ashley was saying like it, even though there is, there is no indication that what we did was wrong. It’s just, when that, when that another failed family happens, it, it takes a toll, which is why it’s, it’s so damaging and harmful for kids to be bounced around from house to house because kids need normalcy and kids, need parents. Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (16:49):

Yeah. And to depend on the adults right. In their life. And the adults are responsible for, for the youth. I know Jaylyn, we’ve talked about your worker in particular. And what you just said about kind of writing down your, your list of, of who you are sounds like that was very supportive. What, in particular, did you worker do that was helpful and supportive and kind of helped you get through?

Jaylyn VanFossen (17:18):

Yeah. I got very lucky with a really good social worker. Like starting from, she was actually there the night that I was taken into custody, she came to get me. And then she, you know, I was like, okay, let’s talk about yourself. Let’s get, you know, like the actual you out there. So people will be more inclined to like, actually want to get to know you and, you know, take care of you. And I had her for four years and I saw her all the time. We got so close that I ended up getting her personal number and personal Facebook and we would, we would talk all the time and we still do. And I still, you know, she’s still a very important person in my life, even though I’m not in custody anymore. And she just made the time to do the monthly check-ins to connect with me about how I was feeling in my placements and just act like, actually figure out how I felt and what I wanted rather than letting the system just kind of taking this

Kate Cunningham (18:08):

Part of what workers do when kids are in custody is a monthly, we call them face to faces where they actually have to take the time in and meet with youth. What would it be helpful for workers to be asking and talking about

Jaylyn VanFossen (18:25):

It’s the monthly check-ins are meant to check in. They’re meant to check in with you to see if, if you’re doing okay. If you’re, if you like your placement, if you’re happy, if it’s a good fit for you regardless, like they, they also meet with the parents and it, but like, it’s really important to meet with the kids to make sure that what everything everybody’s saying across board is the same. And to keep kids out of harmful, potentially harmful situations and just clarifying, making sure that like what their parents are, what the foster parents are saying is accurate, is what is happening and what they actually want.

Ashley Martell (18:59):

I think those one month meetings really needed to be put into effect. I know I didn’t really have those. I had the same foster care worker for my entire DCF stay during my teenage years. And she had, at one point told me that she had forgotten about me and where she had put me in a placement. After multiple people had tried reaching out to her it was due to the lack of those one month meetings that we had this sense of unknown, like where I was going to go. And we really needed those check-ins to say like, can you stay at this group home or do we need to find you another placement? I think if I had had that I might not have been in quite as many harmful situations to myself. Yeah.

Jaylyn VanFossen (19:57):

I mean, group homes in and of themselves are not for kids to just be forgotten about and they’re transition placements. In my opinion, it’s not appropriate for any foster kid to be put in a group home for an extended period of time because the group homes don’t like when you’re in a group home, you’re not having the actual relationship with the parent that you need to because in a group home, the people in charge, the foster parents in a group home have so many kids to deal with. And so many situations that they have to deal with, they can’t connect with kids, one-on-one, they can’t guide you and teach you and help you grow into a person and help you heal with the amount of things they have to do with the amount of kids they have to deal with.

Ashley Martell (20:34):

You don’t get that like life skills training that you might get from a parent or a guardian. And those are things that you really need when you’re about to age out of the system. And like some group homes have a six week role. And I surpassed that multiple times just due to a lack of, I guess, care on my DCF workers part.

Kate Cunningham (21:03):

And it really just, I think, drives home the idea that unless you are in communication with your worker, the worker with you, the youth that it’s detrimental for youth and for that kind of getting you moving you forward.

Jaylyn VanFossen (21:19):

Yeah. I think a lot of foster parents have the idea that when they get a teenager, they’re already going to know like what to do there aren’t that they have the idea that they’re already a person that they’re already a teenager who’s who’s well-versed in how to adult, how to do things by themselves, how to advocate for themselves, how to, how to human. But that’s really not the case. When you get a teenager in custody, a lot of the times they haven’t been in a placement long enough to even create a connection with a person, with a parent. They haven’t had the opportunity to be guided. They haven’t had the opportunity to be taught about basic life skills that a person who wasn’t in foster care, but already have. And it’s, I, I think they need to be more prepared for what they get.

Ashley Martell (22:03):

And I actually have a situation where I can kind of vouch for that, like lack of life skills. I was in a placement with another teenager who had just become a teenager. She was not ready for her period. And she didn’t have anybody to really walk her through how to use basic hygiene products and in a group home, there’s nobody that’s really wanting to sit there and talk to you about like how to use a tampon, how to use a pad. And I’m sure in like male group homes, they’re the same kind of things that they’re not able to talk to you about. And it’s really detrimental because she didn’t know how to take care of these basic hygiene needs that she would have had if she was in a placement.

Kate Cunningham (22:52):

Yeah. So if you have that, that person, right. That you can rely on and you feel comfortable and safe with is very different than being in a group home. And, or just not making a connection with another adult.

Jaylyn VanFossen (23:07):

Yeah. I went to the doctors the other week. I didn’t tell my mom about it. Cause I didn’t realize I was supposed to, I hadn’t had a parent for so long that I didn’t know what was normal. I didn’t know what I was supposed to tell her. I thought this was one of the things I just had to deal with on my own, because I’m an adult now I’m 18, I’m in college, you know, it’s supposed to take care of myself. And when I talked to her about it, she was like, I’m your mom. You’re supposed to tell me these things. It’s like, I have had no idea. Like I genuinely, like, that’s just such a basic thing that is, that comes to instinct to kids who grow up with, with their parents. And it’s, it just wasn’t there for me. Like I hadn’t had that connection because growing up, I never had that parent.

Kate Cunningham (23:47):

Yeah. So it’s things that, that may seem so simple. Right. But that when you don’t have that available adult, it just, isn’t part of, of what you’re, what you’re going to do. So, you know, kind of on that note too what can either foster parents, and again, I, I go to the DCF workers cause they are a big part of your life. As your guardians, what can they do to help kind of foster trust so that you do have somebody to go to or that person to talk to?

Jaylyn VanFossen (24:20):

I mean, I think like from my experience, it’s just like being really straight up. Like I’ve been in placements, both where they have been very straight up with how long I’m going to be there. And I’ve been in placements where they have told me I was gonna be there forever. And it ended up not being the case and you’re not going to hurt the kid’s feelings. If you say they’re going to be there for a year or six months or whatever the case is, you just you’re going to hurt their feelings if they don’t know what’s happening and all of a sudden it’s, you can’t be here anymore. And then it feels like something that they did something wrong when in reality it’s just what it was, the plan all the time. But they didn’t, they didn’t know that they weren’t in, they weren’t in on that.

Ashley Martell (24:59):

We’d much rather you be honest about your expectations and your, your reality of the situation, because we have enough like inconsistency and unknowns in our life that you providing us with a little bit of your truth is really important.

Jaylyn VanFossen (25:20):

And I think the same goes for social workers in DCF workers. The same goes for them. They they’re in, they’re pretty much in charge of your life. They’re the ones who are technically are your guardians. So DCF workers kind of need to have the same mentality. Like mine was always pretty straight up with me. She told me everything that was going on, especially if I asked and she, she was straight up and that’s what we need because when you’re living your teenage years in foster care, like you’re not dumb. We’re still people we pick up on stuff. When we notice there’s some secrets or something we’re not filled in on. We’re still people and we’re especially good, we’re especially good at reading people’s moods and figuring stuff like that out. Cause that’s literally what we did our entire lives with our parents. That’s part of trauma.

Ashley Martell (26:08):

You become really good at reading situations and you understand simple marker is in like human behavior that other people might not understand because they’ve never had to over analyze a situation like that.

Kate Cunningham (26:23):

Yeah. So really being part of being part of the decision-making understanding what’s going to happen in your own lives would be very, very helpful. And being, being told ahead of time or, or however much information is known, at least having that information.

Jaylyn VanFossen (26:41):

I mean, if you’re old enough to testify, and you’re old enough to make decisions like that, then you’re old enough to know what’s happening. You’re old enough to know where you’re going to be. You’re old enough to know how long you’re going to be somewhere. Like if, you know, if you can make your own decisions, you can know where what’s happening with your life. And that’s like a huge part too of trauma is like not being in control and not knowing what’s happening.

Ashley Martell (27:05):

Also old enough to kind of like say, I don’t like this placement isn’t working out for me. You need to be able to have some sort of say in your situation.

Jaylyn VanFossen (27:17):

Yeah. And that little bit, that little information, that little ability to be able to say that is huge for us because we have zero control.

Kate Cunningham (27:27):

Yeah. So having any control at all, right. And any say and being listened to is also what I’m heard and hearing. And when I think of that, again, I go to the time spent both with the DCF worker and the youth in custody, really making sure to do at least a month to month and a good check-in and really hear you and listen, listen to where you’re at.

Jaylyn VanFossen (27:51):

And sometimes a month, a month, isn’t the social worker’s fault because they’re just so overworked. They have so many, they have too many cases to even, you can’t even see a kid like a day, cause there’s too many of them. And I mean, they already have so many things they have to do. They have to go to court, they have, you know, other aspects of their job. And then this required month, month, which is really important is just what falls through the cracks. Because especially if you’re somebody who doesn’t cause problems because they don’t need to check up on you. They’re like okay. You’re good. So if you don’t advocate for yourself and you don’t mention that something’s wrong and you, you don’t get in trouble, then you stay in a placement where you may not be happy where you may actually be really uncomfortable and unsafe. But because of a lot of, because of trauma, a lot of kids don’t know how to speak up for themselves and they don’t, they’re not comfortable with that. They don’t know how to do it. And they end up staying quiet and shutting down and not in like, they’re just putting their being put in a harmful situation by the lack of those check-ins based on the overwork of our social workers.

Kate Cunningham (28:50):

Yeah. So again, it just feeling that safety of being able to speak up for yourself and were there any adults and, or youth that helped you to feel safe to speak up? They kind of gave you that, that voice.

Ashley Martell (29:05):

Yeah. I actually had a pretty close foster friend that helped me get through some really traumatic stuff. And when my parents signed away their legal rights, she was right there by my side. And let me know that like, Hey, this might feel like the end of the world right now. And you don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s really not the end of the world. This is like the opening of a new chapter.

Jaylyn VanFossen (29:29):

Yeah. When I met Ashley, I was, I was kind of becoming a person because I had only been in custody for like a year, a little over a year at that point. And you know, like I wasn’t really my own person before custody and, you know, trauma has lasting effect. So I wasn’t really a person for a long time. And I wasn’t really my own person for a long time. And it was like right around that time in the actually that I was like kind of discovering who I was, what I liked, what I was doing with my life. And it was really beneficial to have somebody who could understand what I was going through and help guide me because she is older than me. So she, she was like my big sister for awhile. And I was very grateful for that experience.

Ashley Martell (30:15):

We kind of picked up things from each other. And I kind of taught her how to use her voice and how to not let people walk all over her. And I learned how to kind of, I learned that sometimes I don’t need to use my voice that sometimes it’s okay for me to sit down and shut up.

Kate Cunningham (30:34):

So you two were, were great advocates and, and kind of teachers for each other. Yeah. Nice. And you can thank that teacher back in. That’s great. What would you tell if you were to meet a youth coming into foster care, now, what advice would you give them?

Ashley Martell (30:55):

It’s okay to stick up for yourself. And even though you might feel like you’re being really snooty or pushy or annoying, it’s your life and it’s okay to be annoying and snooty and pushy about things that are really important to you.

Jaylyn VanFossen (31:11):

I think I would tell them to like really truly be themselves to stop the trauma hiding of their true selves, like who they really are. Cause I know it’s, it’s, you know, you camouflage and you feel like if people actually get to know you, they’re not going to like you and they’re not going to want you. So I think I just tell them to like actually be themselves, embrace it. And those who stay are the ones who are worth it.

Kate Cunningham (31:37):

Nice, and what about for the caregivers who might be taking in a foster youth for the first time.

Ashley Martell (31:43):

Excuse the French, but understand that sometimes youth are real assholes and we need somebody to kind of put us in our place in a respectful way and show us that healthy boundaries are really good. We don’t have a lot of healthy boundaries where we come from and we need somebody to set up those boundaries and show us what it means to be a healthy functioning human.

Jaylyn VanFossen (32:08):

Yeah. I think so many foster parents, especially with teenagers are so scared to give their kids rules, but rules. Oh my goodness. Even if they don’t like ’em, they are so important and they will silently thank you for putting them in line for keeping them in check for making them be a kid instead of having to live for themselves. As you know, the only person that I can count on because rules and curfews and chores, they suck. But that’s what it means to be a kid. That’s what it means to not have to be in charge of yourself. And it’s so important for kids development.

Ashley Martell (32:40):

I hated doing chores, but it really kind of showed me and helped guide me into what it meant to be an adult. And I silently, and I will verbally do it now. Like I am thankful that I was given some sort of boundaries, even though those placements didn’t work out for me.

Jaylyn VanFossen (32:57):

Yeah. Well, cause as a foster kid, you don’t really know boundaries. You like have, you’ve grown up in this like alternate universe almost where everything that you lived with, however, messed up it was was your normal was your comfortable, was what you knew. And so when you are moved into this place, that’s all of a sudden healthy. You don’t have healthy boundaries. You don’t know how to be a healthy human around other healthy people who like its boundaries are so important to create healthiness, to, to reinforce what it means to actually be a healthy person.

Kate Cunningham (33:36):

I’m sitting here wishing that you two could be seen. I know this is a podcast, so it’s not, that’s not a possibility, but my time spent with you just in prepping for this and having seen you on another youth panel and even having this conversation is just, you have, have really blossomed when I can look at you now. And when I hear you say Jaylyn, about not being a person right and kind of coming into your own and that you both are, are now real people.

Jaylyn VanFossen (34:10):

It’s amazing to think back to the person. I was five years ago. Like I really wasn’t a person. It’s, I wasn’t, I wasn’t who I am today. Like I feel so comfortable with myself. It’s, it’s crazy how being in a healthy relationship with parents and with which results in being a healthy relationship with friends, and then more like makes you create a healthy relationship with yourself.

Ashley Martell (34:34):

I, I look back at who I was three, four years ago and I’m not proud of the person I was, but I’m proud of what I became because of it. And I’m proud of what I made out of myself. And I wouldn’t have been able to do that without a lot of those pitfalls. And I’m not at all saying that what I went through was great, but I know it could have been a lot worse. I’m proud of you.

Kate Cunningham (35:00):

How do you both for being here and doing this and maybe kind of one last piece of advice for, I guess for if for DCF worker we’ve kind of gotten through youth and caregivers and what would you, what would a piece of advice for a DCF worker be?

Ashley Martell (35:18):

It’s okay to admit your hands are full, but also understand that we get it. Our hands are full too, but you need to work with us and communicate a lot better than what’s going on right now.

Jaylyn VanFossen (35:31):

I think, I think being transparent with what is going on in that kid’s life with what, with what, you know, and just telling them, just being straightforward and transparent about what’s going on in that kid’s life. Cause they have a right to know and also like just like taking the time to not make it all about that because regardless of the fact that they’re in foster care, they already know that. And that’s the reality they live with every day. So on a month to months gets another kid get to get to know them and just have fun with them. And try to make that one day a little bit better. Tell a funny joke once in a while. Yeah. Well, because DCF workers are the only consistent thing. Like sometimes the foster placement works out, but that’s never a guarantee. And the DCF worker is the only constant and that’s so important to have a constant person, especially with going through the traumatic things that the traumatic thing of moving from home to home that it’s and not having a consistent parent.

Jaylyn VanFossen (36:33):

So like the next best thing is that DCF worker. So like trying to be consistent, trying try to be a little goofy and try to just let them know what they can know. We might brush you off. But those corny jokes, they stick with us and it’s like any teenager with her parents. I still remember some corny jokes that my DCF worker told me, even though I, we didn’t have the greatest relationship. Those will stick with me for the rest of my life because they really got me through some really hard stuff.

Kate Cunningham (37:05):

Do you want to share one?

Jaylyn VanFossen (37:06):

What’s Mario’s favorite kind of pants?

Kate Cunningham (37:08):

I don’t know.

Jaylyn VanFossen (37:09):

Denim, denim, denim.

Kate Cunningham (37:14):

I could see how that get you through a little bit. That’s great. Well, thank you both so much for taking the time for putting the energy, for talking about such important stuff and being vulnerable in talking

Jaylyn VanFossen (37:27):

About it. Thank you for giving us the opportunity.

Kate Cunningham (37:29):

We appreciate it.

Cassie Gillespie (37:33):

So that’s a wrap for our second season of Welcome to the Field. Thank you so much, listeners. We really appreciate you. And in truth, we can’t believe how many of you there actually are. So thank you. We’d also like to extend a special thank you to our guests and all of our guests hosts this season. We just want to thank you so much for your time, your ideas and your feedback. You can’t do this without you. Now don’t worry because after a short break, we’ll be right back at it, planning and recording season three. So if you’re listening and you have some ideas or requests, reach out to me, Cassie Gillespie. You can find me on our website, Welcome to the Field is produced by the Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our music was composed and performed by Brick Drop on our sound production and engineering is brought to you by Esmomd Communications and Egan Media Productions. See you next season.

1 thought on “SEASON 2 FINALE- Youth Voice: Stigma in Foster Care”

  1. As a foster parent to listen to these girls,And think of the kids we have and they are all different and still are to this day.
    And some of the stuff I do pilot they said some stuff they opened my eyes to different things

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