Former foster youth overcomes struggles to move forward in life
For Javon Turner, life has been a whirlwind of ups and downs in the foster care system. He lived in 20 foster homes over 18 years before he aged out of care at age 21. He spent five years with his grandparents and two years with his aunt and uncle. He wore shoes three sizes too small for him and wasn’t allowed to open the refrigerator or use the stove. He lived with families with very lenient rules and those who were “diligent with discipline,” he said. For some birthdays, he was given a cake before the adults left the house and others where he had parties with gifts. He excelled in school with numerous academic awards at times and shut down completely from his foster family at other times. On Saturdays, his older biological brother would often visit and spend the entire day with him. “He was my only constant,” said Turner.
One of his best times in foster care was the first year living with his aunt and uncle; “I got to eat what I wanted and drink juice for the first time,” he said. “I felt stable and secure.” Others were his numerous stays at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in between different foster homes. “I got a lot of attention there. We got to go to outdoor activities, we were acknowledged for behaving well. I felt special there.”
Working through the negative experiences in his life took time. “It was incredibly difficult to get out of bed some days,” he said. “I think that negative experiences can be exacerbated by negative expectations,” he said. “I did not have a lot of belief that any adult had good intentions; I may have made things worse than they could have been because of my expectations.”
For the last six years, he has worked with Connections to Independence (C2i), a service and advocacy organization, under contract with Hennepin County, to help foster youth make healthy transitions to adulthood. “C2i helped me focus on the mess that was happening internally in my life,” he said. “Our very basic needs must be met before we can achieve self-actualization.”
Based on his experiences, Turner believes social workers are overburdened. Outsourcing services to nonprofit organizations may help ease that burden, he said. Providing incentives to foster parents to better care for and pay attention to children’s needs may be another, he said.
Today, he’s looking forward to more positive experiences. He is studying at Normandale Community College, participating in training at Eastside Neighborhood Services, Minneapolis, interning at Connections to Independence, and considering learning to speak a third language, besides English and French, fluently.
“It’s sometimes easiest to cope with what is going on by only doing what pleases us, but we need to focus on what makes us healthy.”
In Minnesota, nearly 14,700 children are in out-of-home placement; almost 12,200 of them are in family foster care. For more information about foster care, see the department’s foster care fact sheet. For information about how to become a foster parent, visit the foster care page.