Youth Voice Mini-series: Part 2

Join Mercedes and Hailey in this second episode as they share their experiences in the VT DCF child welfare system with host, Kate Cunningham. Using the list of hopes and aspirations for any youth in state’s care that the St. Joseph’s Orphanage survivors created in 2020, we discuss the importance of the relationship between a youth in care and their alternative caregivers, either kin, foster or residential workers. The need for a sense of belonging and for being cared about as a person is clear in the stories that share.

Show Notes and Resources:

Hopes and aspiration for children in state care:

St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Justice:

Youth Development Program:

Host Info: 

Kate Cunningham, MS, is a training & coaching specialist with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership. Kate is a VT licensed School Counselor and National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach 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 (CWTP) in 2012. In her eleven years at CWTP Kate has worked with and supported countless FSD workers and leaders and has training expertise in all phases of child welfare work and workforce support.


Mercedes (00:00):

It’s not our fault. We had to leave our families and our life, and we still need to feel some sense of belonging.

Cassie Gillespie (00:10):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you are listening to the Social Work Lens, a podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Today we are bringing you the second episode in a three part mini-series focusing on the experience of youth in Vermont’s foster care system. And if you missed episode one, now would be a great time to go back and listen to it. Before we start and jump into today’s episode, Kate Cunningham, your host, is here in the studio with us to share a little context about what you are about to hear. Hi Kate.

Kate Cunningham (00:43):

Hi, Cassie. I think it’s great to give a little context for these episodes. Back in the fall of 2021, CWTP worked with the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Inquiry, and we did a listening session which involved DCF workers and other survivors from the St. Joseph’s Orphanage where we heard stories of the experiences of the St. Joseph’s orphanage survivors. They also had written a hopes and aspirations list, which we pull from in all three of these episodes for youth who are in state’s care. As many of the survivors had been in state’s care many years ago, one thing that we learned with the St. Joseph’s orphanage survivors was that telling their stories brought a lot of meaning to their experiences and helped build resiliency and healing. What we hear in the podcast here with these two youth, Mercedes and Hailey, is their own experiences and their own storytelling of what happened to them while they were in state’s custody.

Kate Cunningham (01:53):

The stories are raw, they’re honest, they come from their heart. These two young women didn’t know each other before coming in and doing the podcasts. And you hear throughout the three episodes that they just get to know each other and feed off of each other and realize the commonalities that they have and the experiences that they shared. Some of these experiences are hard to hear. They talk about being in different foster homes in different residential centers, times that they had when they ran, experiences they’ve had afterwards. So do what you feel necessary as you are listening to take care of yourself, to process afterwards, and to really kind of let settle in what these two amazing, resilient women talk about and we hope that you enjoy and learn something. So this is episode two of our podcast series of working with youth and Getting Youth Perspective. And I am here again with Haley and Mercedes and I’m gonna ask you to do just a quick intro again for anyone who might be listening solely to this podcast and not the whole series.

Mercedes (03:12):

Hi, my name’s Mercedes. I am one of the guests on the three part podcast episodes. I was in the system from ages 7 to 10 and then put back in the system for ages 13 to 18.

Hailey (03:28):

Hi, I’m Hailey. I was in the system from ages 11 to a week before I turned 16.

Kate Cunningham (03:36):

Great, thank you Haley. Thank you Mercedes. It’s so nice to have you back and to be talking again. We just as a reminder we are looking at a list of hopes and aspirations that were written in 2020 by survivors of the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Group. It was a restorative process called the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage. Last episode, we did the first two hopes and aspirations that they had that were about listening to children and seeing children when they’re in the state’s foster care system. And so it really was about the relationship with the DCF worker and the youth or child. This episode we’re gonna do the next two items on the hopes and aspirations that really focuses more on alternative caregivers and youth in the system. So I will read the two hopes and aspirations and then we will have a conversation about them.

Kate Cunningham (04:37):

The first one is that the state must select and support foster families with great care, and there’s quite a few bullets under this that the survivors from the St. Joseph Orphanage wrote down. So the first hope that involves alternative caregivers, what was that the state must select and support foster families with great care. They talk about in the bullets underneath giving foster family extensive training, doing background checks. So people who are caring for children need to know the difference between discipline and abuse that the foster family compensation should be raised and that institutions religious or otherwise, which would really be like our residential placements require very careful oversight if they’re providing care for children. So that all kind of falls under their the state selecting and supporting foster families with great care. And then they have another bullet and hope of instead of taking kids from families, invest in supporting the family to care for their children. And so really they’re saying whenever possible children should be placed with their extended family. So today we’re gonna kind of dive into this talking about alternative caregivers and foster families and extended or kin families as we call them, and kind of thinking about what makes a good foster placement. So I’ll turn it over to you and maybe that’s the question of, of what would you say makes a good foster family or placement?

Mercedes (06:10):

I would say the best foster families I’ve had were ones where I didn’t feel like an outcast with their other children and family. There’s a lot of divide when you are in a foster home where you can just, some foster homes, you can just tell that you’re different and just because it’s hard because yes, we are not your biological children, but it at the same time, like, it’s not our fault. We had to leave our families and our life and we still need to feel some sense of belonging.

Kate Cunningham (06:45):

Yeah, belonging came up last time, I think.

Mercedes (06:47):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (06:47):

As well when we were talking about residential and So I hear that like really just fitting in and being one of.

Mercedes (06:53):


Hailey (06:54):

I think being in a foster family especially it should be required to treat the child as one of your own. Like Mercedes said, like most foster homes you go to, like you’re treated differently. You’re not treated like you’re their child. I think it’s just important to involve them in like all the activities you would of your own children. Like I was in foster homes where their children got to go to the movies, but because my caseworker didn’t send over enough money, I wasn’t allowed to go with them because they weren’t willing to pay out of their pockets for it. So it, it should be a requirement that you should be treated like you’re their own child.

Mercedes (07:38):

Yeah. I had a foster family who would and I had known them for years and years. They would let their, their kids go out and do a bunch of stuff. But when I was there for the weekend, because I lived at a program and I would go to their house on the weekends they would stop all plans that they had not take me anywhere. And I remember I wanted to go to the store with my sister like five minutes away and they wouldn’t even let my sister drive me to go to the store. And neither of us were untrustworthy. My worker hadn’t said, to my knowledge at least that I couldn’t go anywhere and that she couldn’t take me anywhere.

Kate Cunningham (08:18):

Yeah. Ouch. Right?

Mercedes (08:20):


Kate Cunningham (08:21):

We, I know the state developed a, what we call, and again, I’m doing the quotes, normalcy policy so that kids in foster care actually get to do the things that are normal for kids their age, and it allows some access to kind of sleepovers or walking to this store or, you know, getting your driver’s license or just doing the things that every kid gets to do.

Mercedes (08:46):

Yeah. I I, I hate it now because now that I’m an adult and I hear that, my friends were like, oh my gosh. Like, my parents didn’t let me go to my friend’s house. And it was just so hard. It’s like I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere ’cause I was in programs and I didn’t go anywhere for years. And like, it just it makes me so jealous. I’m just like, I just wanted to do all that stuff as a kid and I just missed out on so much because of all of these parameters and stuff.

Hailey (09:13):

What about holidays? Holidays and placements in foster homes? I know personally when I was in placement in foster homes, holidays weren’t really celebrated, you know, and for the kids who weren’t allowed to go see their family, there’s really like no gifts. Like Christmas morning, my first Christmas in placement was so fucking awkward, <laugh>. It was just horrible. Like <laugh>, usually you wake up as a kid to like a Christmas tree full of presents <laugh>. Not in, not in placements not, that’s not how it is.

Mercedes (09:51):

Yeah. I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, if you guys are familiar.

Kate Cunningham (09:54):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (09:55):

So we didn’t have any holidays. I was a Jehovah’s Witness until I was about eight years old. So I never really minded that I, I lived with a family that it was holidays were basically treated as like oh, you know, this is the make up for everything that’s happened between us. And that’s kind of what gifts were. It was almost like a, like bargaining with me. So I’ve never really liked holidays too much, but holidays aren’t very celebrated in programs and stuff. And it’s sad because some kids get to go to their families and some kids are stuck at the program and it sucks. I was one of the kids who was always stuck at the program and didn’t really get to go anywhere. And it feels terrible when all your other program friends are, are going places and you’re just there and the staff you can just tell, just don’t want to be there and are upset that they have to be.

Hailey (10:46):

Yeah ’cause they wanna be home with their family celebrating their holidays, <laugh>.

Mercedes (10:50):


Kate Cunningham (10:51):

Yeah I hear when I hear that, a, it’s heartbreaking, and b it’s just that reminder of the things that we need to be thinking about.

Mercedes (10:59):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (11:00):

Right. Because personally I hadn’t been thinking about holidays. I do when the holidays come around, but those are are big kind of traditions, right? In families, whether you celebrate them or not, you have the tradition of of doing that. Yeah.

Mercedes (11:16):

I like that. DCF does give you presents around holiday time and gift cards and stuff, which did you never get any?

Hailey (11:24):

I never got any.

Mercedes (11:25):


Hailey (11:26):

Not once.

Mercedes (11:27):

Well, I am very sorry for that.

Hailey (11:29):


Mercedes (11:29):

Bbut I did even when I was a Jehovah’s witness as a kid they didn’t seem to respect our religion, I guess? That was a big thing. They Oh, they did not respect that my family was witnesses nor my mom’s side of the family, which could be another conversation if we wanna come back to that, but sorry, I lost my train of thought.

Kate Cunningham (11:47):

Yeah, no, well I’m, when I hear you talk about that, it just reminds me too of, you know, that we need to look at the culture.

Mercedes (11:55):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (11:55):

That each child and youth is, is coming from and try to support them in being as normal in their culture and their traditions as possible. And that, that sounds like that got a little pushed to the side or dismissed.

Mercedes (12:10):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (12:10):

At that point.

Mercedes (12:11):

Yeah. Like, I don’t even believe that they relayed to my other foster families that we grew up as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I went with a family and they did like a conjoined birthday. It was like, we got taken in like March and I was like seven. My sister was eight, and they had like a birthday party for my sister and it was so weird. Her and I were both like, what the heck is happening? And they were like, you can invite your friends if you want. They gave me presents on her birthday and we had never experienced that before. And I don’t even think DCF relayed that that was our life and that’s, it was weird. And I experienced all my holidays for the first time and it was a culture shock.

Hailey (12:51):

There’s a very big chance too that like DCF didn’t know.

Mercedes (12:54):


Kate Cunningham (12:55):

Right, so hopefully again, when we talk about, yeah.

Mercedes (12:58):

Okay.Yeah. They, they did know. They knew for sure. Because they, we believe that they purposefully didn’t give me to that side of the family because they they didn’t like the religion because a lot of people can see it as culty. And so DCF didn’t respect that. And they, we believe that because my family actually recently told me from that side of the family that they tried to get us, but DCF didn’t let them. Instead they gave me to the side of the family that had abuse in their past and generational trauma. And I know for me, if I was a worker, I would look at the, the nice religion, even if it did seem a little culty and the, the family that has generational trauma and abuse, and I would give that child to the nice people.

Kate Cunningham (13:49):

That brings me a little bit to that. Like instead of, of putting kids in the foster system trying to find extended kin and, and family and people that, you know, and it sounds like they did it, but maybe not in the way that for you felt the best.

Mercedes (14:04):

I’m, I’m very against next of kin because I was given to my aunt and uncle who treated me horribly and were the reason I was put back in DCF for a second time because in families it’s generational trauma and abuse runs in families and mental health issues. And so if there was an issue with a parent and they had siblings, you know, that also can run with the siblings and with their family, with their moms and dads and cousins and all this stuff.

Hailey (14:37):

I think next of kin is a hit or miss.

Mercedes (14:40):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (14:40):

I mean, I feel like the research should be just as much as what it would be to become a foster parent.

Mercedes (14:46):


Hailey (14:47):

I feel maybe not to the extent of that hard to get the certification to be able to get the child, but, you know, having research and record checks and runs because that’s often ran right over because they’re family.

Kate Cunningham (15:02):

Right. And it also brings me to when we talked in the first episode about checking in on, on youth and having those conversations and being able for you youth to be able to tell your worker what’s going on or if you don’t feel safe.

Mercedes (15:20):


Kate Cunningham (15:20):

Or if something isn’t quite right and be listened to. I wanna go back to something you both said about being in a foster home and feeling othered Right? Or being treated differently than maybe a birth child in that home. What are some ways that foster families can actually help support you having that sense of belonging and not feeling othered?

Hailey (15:45):

Including them and including them in family activities, family game night, and just including them in the things that they would do if we weren’t there.

Mercedes (15:56):

And not similar to last episode we were talking about people not feeling like we are a burden because of our file or whatever. Or I’ve noticed with a lot of families, they also feel like we’re burdens and just think of thinking of us as human. It just, it all just interconnects and it’s just.

Hailey (16:19):

Yeah let’s, let’s go back to what we said in the last podcast. Lots of foster families and foster caregivers become caregivers for the paycheck. While it doesn’t look like a lot when you have little to nothing, and that’s an extra, you know, grand in your pocket for this foster child, you’re just a paycheck in their eyes. <Laugh>.

Mercedes (16:41):

I had a family actually who was, I didn’t know this as a child, but my, my mom told me later in life that they wanted to get me and my two other siblings because they were losing their house and their car. And we were told the entire time for the, the about six years I lived with them, that we were poor and we were upper to middle class. But they used that as an excuse to treat us poorly and not give us everything that we needed and while they were still getting money in their pockets from us being there.

Kate Cunningham (17:14):

Right, so really treating you, treating you equal. Including you.

Mercedes (17:20):


Kate Cunningham (17:20):

Offering the things that you need.

Mercedes (17:22):


Kate Cunningham (17:22):

Right? Like also, Haley, when you said that, that you weren’t able to go to the movies, maybe there’s other ways to, to get you to be able to go to the movie if the money wasn’t coming from DCF. Right? So how, how can, can the foster family really include you and make you feel like you’re not just a paycheck, but that you’re another youth, you’re another child, and you have the needs for love for belonging and being, being part of the, the family. Did you have experiences that you can pull from that were feeling like you really belonged and what was different there?

Hailey (17:56):

I was never in a good foster home.

Mercedes (18:01):

Trying to pull something outta memory.

Kate Cunningham (18:03):


Mercedes (18:06):

A lot of the nice things that were done for me in foster homes as a child was just to get on my good side and make up for everything that had happened to me. But I would say that I lived, I lived with an aunt who wasn’t really my aunt. She’s like, I treat her as my aunt. I call her my aunt. She’s wonderful. I loved living with her. She didn’t treat me any differently. She treated me just as human. And that was probably my favorite foster home. We didn’t do anything really out of the ordinary. They wouldn’t really let me go anywhere though. Still, because they thought I would do something or whatever, but I was also a risk at that time. So I, I understand that a little bit.

Kate Cunningham (18:58):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but.

Mercedes (18:59):


Kate Cunningham (19:00):

Mm-Hmm<Affirmative>. Yeah. There’s a fine line between keeping a, an adolescent, I’m gonna say, or, or even a youth of any age safe and allowing them to kinda do the normal things.

Mercedes (19:14):


Hailey (19:14):

But let’s talk about when you go into the system and you’re not a risk, and then you’re still treated as a risk.

Mercedes (19:20):

Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (19:21):


Hailey (19:21):

The reason why you then become a risk is because you’re gonna become rebellious.

Mercedes (19:25):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Hailey (19:26):

If you’re told that you’re not allowed to go anywhere or do anything for months to years at a time, eventually you’re gonna say yeah, no, bye.

Mercedes (19:36):


Hailey (19:36):

Like <laugh>.

Mercedes (19:38):

I literally developed so many behaviors, like going into programs and stuff. Like I never would’ve had developed the behaviors and had the behaviors that I did if I didn’t see it from other kids. And I’d never gone to those programs and foster homes in the first place.

Kate Cunningham (19:55):

Yeah. Sometimes we learn from our environment.

Mercedes (19:57):


Kate Cunningham (19:57):


Mercedes (19:58):

And I wouldn’t have had to work so hard to get myself out of programs if I was never taught those things by programs in general and placements.

Kate Cunningham (20:05):

Yeah, kind of a it’s a cycle.

Mercedes (20:07):


Hailey (20:08):

I think that’s another thing with like being placed in placements is I think developing all these new things that you learn from other people could be completely avoided if placements were placed by different levels.

Mercedes (20:26):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>,

Hailey (20:27):

Like, there’s this placement where these people run away they’re under the drugs into rebellious behavior and you place that group of people in that place.

Mercedes (20:41):


Hailey (20:42):

Instead of putting someone who has a drug addiction running away with someone who is literally being taken away because their family is using drugs and they’ve done nothing wrong.

Mercedes (20:53):


Hailey (20:53):

You place them in that placement. These two people who have two completely different lifestyles, they’re obviously gonna communicate and they’re obviously gonna pick up traits that this other person has.

Mercedes (21:05):


Kate Cunningham (21:05):


Mercedes (21:06):

It can go one of two ways. It can be like two people, three people planning on running away together and going out and doing drugs and stuff. Or it can be maybe the, the kids who haven’t really done anything bounce off their behaviors, bounce off of other people and make them better, or it can make that child worse. Like the one who hasn’t really done much and is new to those behaviors, which hopefully they’re not new to them at all. ’cause We don’t want those being developed or whatever.

Kate Cunningham (21:37):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (21:38):

But yeah.

Hailey (21:39):

When I went into placement my first placement that I was in for a pretty decent amount of time I had been there for two months at that point, and one day we got a new girl, <laugh>, and she was so rebellious. She came in and the day she came in, she made friends with me and two other females who were, we were all in around the same, same age group. I had been sober from pills for two and a half months. And <laugh>, she’s like, let’s run away her first day there. So, you know, we made a plan that by the end of the week we were all gonna sneak out our windows, run away. Well, that did happen. And I ended up going, we ended up going at least a month and a half. We were, we were ran away for.

Mercedes (22:32):


Kate Cunningham (22:32):


Hailey (22:32):

Didn’t get caught. Nothing. I don’t remember a lot of it because I was on a crack bender. I had never done crack a day in my life before I ran away with these girls. I had just had a slight pill addiction that happened from a car accident that I was in. I was over-prescribed the medication and that’s how I became addicted to the drugs. And then I ran away with these girls and we were on a crack bender and like, it literally, it didn’t feel like we were gone that long, but like, I just remember like, and it was so easy to find, like, drugs are so populated out there, like, it’s just so, it was so easy. This guy, he was a dealer and he took us all in and we, we literally stayed with this guy for this entire month and a half that we were gone and we were high all the time.

Hailey (23:22):

And like, we didn’t have to do anything. Like, he just gave us the drugs. Like he just wanted the company. He didn’t expect any sexual favors in return or anything. And like he, I just, he got arrested because he was holding us fugitive and the state’s eyes.

Kate Cunningham (23:38):

Yeah. That make sense Hailey <laugh>.

Hailey (23:39):

But yeah, I mean, and that’s what I mean, like, you pick up bad traits and behaviors. Like, I had been sober, I’d only used pills, I had never done anything else a day in my life before then. And then we meet this guy with these girls. <Laugh>.

Kate Cunningham (23:55):

Lemme, I have two questions for this. One, if you could, if you could go back and, or if you could tell yourself then like whether it was that situation or your situation’s Mercedes where you talk about you escalated your behaviors if you could tell yourself anything, looking back at that stage when you were in residential or, or a program, what would you say to yourself?

Hailey (24:23):

Honestly, I wouldn’t tell myself anything different. I am a strong believer that my life choices and actions that happened in my past is what got me to where I am today.

Kate Cunningham (24:32):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Hailey (24:33):

I wouldn’t be as successful as I was. I wouldn’t be so educated and certain things if it wasn’t for the fact that I went through those life experiences. So yes, it was shitty but it was also very educational and I wasn’t sheltered.

Kate Cunningham (24:48):

Mm-Hmm<Affirmative>. So real learning.

Mercedes (24:50):

I would tell myself to calm down because I when going through programs, I experienced more trauma than I’ve ever had. And it was a horrible, lonely road for me. And so I just would, would warn myself that it was gonna be like that if I kept, because I was in lower level placement. I didn’t say this on the podcast, but I was in lower level placement. I was only supposed to be there for six weeks. And I thought, no, I need to go home to my family. I need to go home to my friends. I had a boyfriend, I had this and that. And I needed to go home. And I did worse and worse behaviors. I was running away, I was harming myself to try to get outta that program. And then I got outta the program and little did I know that I was going into higher intensity programs.

Kate Cunningham (25:45):


Mercedes (25:46):

I was staying in programs for a week, two weeks, a month, because I would just try to get myself out of them. And eventually I had built myself up to such high intensity that I couldn’t even go outside. And it was really hard. So I would’ve told myself to just calm down and just not keep digging myself holes. I have a tendency to dig myself very deep holes, <laugh>

Kate Cunningham (26:09):

Fill those holes. Right. <laugh>.

Mercedes (26:10):


Kate Cunningham (26:11):

What that said that you would tell yourself to calm down and that you, Hailey are taking this as kind of like a learning it, it makes you everything that you are with all the different experiences. What would’ve been helpful? What could someone have done to either, even though it was an experience that you learned from, keep you from running or keep you in the program and or help support you, Mercedes with, with being calm mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (26:39):

I just needed attention and love. Not love in like the, you know, just I needed to feel something because a lot of the times I would run away. I’d only be gone for a couple hours. I just like to run a, I was a really sporty kid, and b I just wanted somebody to see me.

Kate Cunningham (26:53):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Mercedes (26:54):

I just wanted to not physically. Like out in the community. I mean, like mentally, just like, I wanted them to see that I was hurting. Yeah. And I wanted them to recognize if somebody had just sat me down and played a board game with me, I would’ve been so fricking happy.

Kate Cunningham (27:08):

So it was like a call for help, like, Hey, here I’m.

Mercedes (27:11):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I used to do so much negative attention seeking behavior, and I’m surprised that nobody caught that and they just weren’t, I just wasn’t helped mentally. It was, I had so much behaviors that everything my first few years in programs was just to help mitigate those behaviors and deal with them instead of getting to the root cause of why I was doing those things.

Kate Cunningham (27:32):

Yeah so really the, what is the underlying need, right? With the behavior.

Mercedes (27:36):


Kate Cunningham (27:36):

For sure.

Hailey (27:37):

My behaviors were caused by childhood trauma. If my mom would’ve just paid closer attention and realized that the man she let in her house was sexually assaulting me, I wouldn’t have seeked the male attention at 11 years old. I wouldn’t have wanted to be sexually active at 11 years old. I wouldn’t have been talking to men who were 35 at, at 11 years old.

Kate Cunningham (28:04):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Hailey (28:06):

I just feel like if my mom would’ve paid closer attention and picked up on the signs.

Kate Cunningham (28:12):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (28:13):

That, you know, there, there was plenty of signs, like she’d leave to go to work and have him babysit me and I’d, I’d cry and beg her not to leave. Like, I feel like there’s just a fine dis difference between wanting your mom to stay home from work as a child who has no sexual abuse trauma, and someone who’s being sexually abused and crying, like throwing a full on temper tantrum, chasing their mom halfway down the street, begging them to come back. Like there was just so many signs that she could have picked up on and she didn’t. And you know, in a way I do blame her for not noticing because maybe I wouldn’t have at 11 years old seeked so much male attention.

Kate Cunningham (28:57):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. It also makes me think of kind of the village, right. The need for a village for children.

Mercedes (29:01):


Kate Cunningham (29:01):

Like if there were other adults who you could have turned to if someone else was available. And I think yeah. For both of you, that’s what I’m hearing too, is that it really just keeps coming back to that need for belonging and love and attention and ways to get it in, in healthy ways.

Mercedes (29:21):

Yeah. But I also kind of fight with myself. ’cause I, I’m a very insightful person and I’m like, well, if I had gone back and told myself to calm down and people had known that it was just attention seeking behavior, would it have been enough? Because I needed so much attention at that point to make up for almost my entire life. And I just kept wanting and wanting and wanting. And I don’t have as many attention to seeking behaviors as I did then. Not nearly. But I just think, would it have been enough if somebody had given me that attention, or would I have been needing more?

Kate Cunningham (29:57):

Right, right

Mercedes (29:58):

‘Cause People get tired of that after a while. There’s only so much people can give.

Kate Cunningham (30:02):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. And they reach their, end of their rope. So it is, it’s again, is it listening? Is it, how, what is the dynamic there? That could be, that could be the helpful dynamic. Oh, I just, I am I moved. I am saddened. I am touched by your stories. They’re, they are very real. I appreciate you, you sharing all of this. If in wrapping this episode up, if you could give one piece of advice, just like the last time to an alternative caregiver, whether it was someone in a residential or, or a foster home, what one piece of advice would you give to them?

Hailey (30:44):

Be gentle and kind.

Mercedes (30:47):

Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day we’re all just kind of loving children, looking for, looking for someone, you know? Looking for anyone to, to give us what we need. I’ve never really seen a child and like a young adult in, in the system who has had malicious intent just to be malicious. It’s because they haven’t been given something that they’ve needed. And yeah, just be loving and kind and gentle and realize that we’re also humans.

Kate Cunningham (31:24):

<Laugh>. You sure are. Oh, well, thank you so much for this second episode. I look forward to the third episode where we will come together again and discuss kind of access to your information, your access to your information. So I appreciate you two so, so much.

Mercedes (31:46):

Yeah. Thank you.

Hailey (31:46):

Thank you.

Kate Cunningham (31:47):

Thank you.

Cassie Gillespie (31:52):

The social work lens is produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop. And our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house administrative production assistant, Emma Baird. For The Social Work Lens, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.

1 thought on “Youth Voice Mini-series: Part 2”

  1. This was very interesting
    It’s hard not every foster home is the same
    Holidays are always hard on the kids some have never had Christmas or a birthday they might enjoy or act out
    We try to make all the children feel like part of the family
    I agree that some kids should not be placed with other kids
    They do pick up behaviors from the other clients
    Or they get along or choose to do what the kids is doing

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