Updated: Jan 31
I "met" Melanie Ketchum (total superhero name right?) on social media, but I already feel like I know her. She's living her best life as a single working professional woman now, but once upon a time, Melanie was a child growing up in foster care.
I hope that everyone who reads Melanie's impactful story will think about the many teen girls still facing the same situation that she once was.
How old were you when you went into foster care? Can you share some of the circumstances that led to that?
My experience was kind of unique, as I actually went into foster care on two separate occasions!
My first stint in foster care started around my fourth birthday. My mother struggled with addiction throughout my childhood and there was a lot of domestic violence between her and my stepfather. After about nineteen reports to child protection services, myself and my younger brother - almost exactly two years younger than me - were removed from care in 1997. We spent about four and a half years in foster care, in three different homes, and were almost adopted by the last family before we were reunified in the fall of 2000 (for anyone unfamiliar, reunified is just a fancy word that means that our mom was deemed fit to parent and she was given custody of us again).
The second time was a bit more complicated. I was just shy of thirteen and my mom voluntarily surrendered us in March 2006. This time, it was me, the same brother from my first time in care, and my next youngest brother who was born in May 2002. My younger sister, born in January 2004, was already in foster care and on track to be adopted by the second family that she was placed with.
The short version was that my mom returned to using the same day that our original DPS case was closed, something she admitted to me in my teen years. There was a house fire in the fall of 2004. My mom left us (me, my brothers, and my sister) with my ex-stepdad. My baby sister wasn’t his child and he surrendered her to the local sheriff’s department. In an effort to keep us out of care, my mom took us from him and left us with a family friend. We moved with them out of state and eventually, my mom came to retrieve us and drove the 14 hours home to immediately surrender us into foster care because she couldn’t take care of us, as she was still deep in her addiction and did not have the means to take care of us at the time.
I can’t speak to her motives, but I suspect (and like to think) that the decision to hand us over to the system again was her version of a loving decision. We were not in school for the year that we stayed with family friends and lived hundreds of miles away, so she rarely was able to see us.
Wow. Melanie lived through so many worst case scenarios that the foster care system is supposed to try to prevent: Multiple placements, a failed reunification that wasn't detected due to lack of follow up support, and sibling separation.
What memories do you have of that first foster family? Is there anything they did well that made you feel safer and more comfortable? Anything they did that made things harder for you?
My very first foster home, I was very young so I don’t remember much but I do know that the home wasn’t pleasant and we weren’t there for very long before being moved. I remember experiencing a lot of unpleasant punishments (standing and facing a corner for long periods of time, my toys being given to the foster parents daughter that was around my age, etc) but have no recollection of what I was being punished for.
Remember, that first home was caring for toddler and infant siblings. Melanie was barely 4 years old. There are many good foster homes but sadly there are also many abusive or neglectful foster homes (some of our children were in some of those types of homes before coming to us!). We always need more safe, loving foster parents to help keep kids out of those unfit foster homes.
The second time around, the first home wasn’t terrible but I was extremely overprotective of my younger brother and that caused a lot of friction between me and the foster mother. We were removed within a month, partially because of my behavior.
I clearly remember the lead up to being removed. The foster mom’s granddaughter was holding my youngest brother, after getting into a fight where I was being accused of stealing (which I had not done) and refusing to hand him to me. I absolutely lost my mind and started screaming at her. I had been his primary caregiver for his entire life and had never even spent more than a few hours apart from either of my brothers in well over a year, since I hadn’t been in school. I was about two months shy of thirteen, and he was a tiny almost-4-year-old (he’d been sick often as a child, diagnosed with Failure to Thrive, and was barely bigger than our sister, who was a year and a half younger than him).
In hindsight, I definitely overreacted in the moment, but I also firmly believe that the foster mother and her granddaughter did not understand the gravity of my “Big Sister Protective Instincts” and my own separation anxiety because of my brother’s illnesses when we were younger.
This tore at my heart. As an oldest sibling, I would have reacted exactly like Melanie did. I was extremely overprotective of my siblings as a child. It also hurts to read the guilt she carries still in adulthood. It was NOT her fault that they had to move homes. Her behavior was nOT the reason for the move. That foster parent made a choice to request that they be moved instead of lovingly working through Melanie’s fears with her. The decision to disrupt a child in your home is very serious, and should be avoided whenever possible. And the blame for that decision rests solely on the shoulders of the adult making it, not on the child.
Part 2 of Melanie's story coming soon. To catch up with her on social media, follow @ketchu.m on instagram!
So how can we help the young women still living through the challenges that Melanie faced? One simple way is to help their stories be heard.
She lives right here in Ohio. She's a strong 17 year old girl who is parenting her 2 year old child while searching for a parent of her own.
Despite having walked through things that most of us couldn't even imagine surviving, Heaven is still able to dream. And she dreams of an adoptive home who will be thrilled to have her as their daughter, and a bonus grand-baby, too!
Please share her info.
Help Heaven find a place to call home.