A Letter From a Former Foster Child

Donna Ennis

I have worked with over a thousand foster youth in the past 20 years. Thanks to Facebook and other social media sites I am able to stay in contact with them after they have left foster care and moved onto other settings. I recently connected with the first child that I placed in foster care. She is 33 now and has two children of her own and she is doing very well.

It is always difficult when our youth are returned to situations that appear to be unsafe. Many times our foster parents don’t believe that a youth’s family has made the necessary changes it takes to be a good caretaker to their child. At those times we hope for the best and try and stay connected to the child after their return home. We try and teach the children survival skills including how to keep their selves safe. We teach them a strong sense of cultural identity which can be a great predictor of resiliency to trauma. We teach them to use their tobacco in a good way. We praise them and tell them of the great things that we hope for them and their life.

The following letter was written by one of these children that went home to her family where changes had not happened but there were fiscal restraints for the continuation of foster care and so she was returned to the Reservation home with her family. Let’s call her Harmony. A few months later her foster mother received this letter:

Hey ***,
how you been doing? man I really miss you. But me im doing okay. im in treatment because I got a minor and they want to put me in here before I got into any more trouble. But it’s ok im doing fine! Just really lonely. And really homesick. But I don’t know I just wanted to see how you are doing. Hows **** & all the girls? they doing good. Make sure and tell everyone I said hi & I miss them. But I just need someone to talk to im really sad and emotional because *****(sister) got beat up by her boyfriend now she’s living with her dad and baby ******* in ******** and told me she’ll come see me every weekend but I don’t think that’s going to happen. right when me & ***** become close something always has to ruin it! im scared. i have to be here with other people i don’t know. i know it’s my own fault I got myself here. But i mean why did my life have to end up like this? What did i do wrong? *** to tell you the truth my life is bullshit. But that’s life right? But i never pictured my life to be like this at the age of 14. The Res is so bad i got to worry about getting beat up if i walk around because that’s how people are around here. Sometimes i think about running away from home but i don’t know where I’d go. And I’d never have enough guts to anyways. Me and my moms boyfriend don’t get along. He treats me like im nothing. And now I’m starting to think im nothing. this Res ruined my whole life well my childhood. i miss my brothers especially ******* he’s in treatment too. at ****. But *** please tell me you wont tell nobody about me being here i don’t want them to think of me as a bad person. It’s funny because i still remember your address, house phone & your cell phone if you still got it. But yeah i miss you so much ***. i don’t know if i ever got to tell you but i thank you so much for taking care of me & my sister. i love you. your like another mom. a mom that’s been there for me & always will. You & **** i respect you guys! But hopefully you’ll write me back that’ll help me lot to hear from you. but i love & miss you *** tell **** I miss him too & all the girls. especially ****. Well ok! love you.

Love always + Forever

A few weeks after she wrote this letter she was again returned to her mother’s care on her reservation. Shortly after her return home, Harmony was killed in a motor vehicle accident and she had been under the influence of alcohol. She was 14 years old.

I have read this letter many times since the day she was killed. I read her cries for help. How she blamed herself for her lot in life when in reality she had very little control over her life’s circumstances. She worries about her safety on the Reservation and worries about the safety of her sister who is in an abusive relationship with her baby daddy. Harmony fights with her mother’s boyfriend and needs to worry about that as well. She wants to run away but has nowhere to go.

This is a true story and there are countless other stories that I could share with you about how the child welfare system is not protecting our Native children.

Donna Ennis is currently the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page




Two Bears Growling's picture
To the sister who worked with children on various rez. I know what you mean about nothing getting done due to others gripping & pointing fingers at problems. Too many times native folks gripe about somethng that needs fixed, but they don't get up & do anything to make the changes. That's why nothing we see more of the same on our lands & among our people. Too many times we are reluctant to speak up against others because they may be friends or family members & we don't want to get them in trouble. sometimes we have to when something is not right. That' what being an honest person is about: Doing things that are right regardless of who someone is or how much money they have. The Creator does not show a difference in who someone is when they have done wrong & He punishes them regardless. Those of us who are in positions of authority must do the right thing regardless of who we are dealing with. We must be people of honor who does not turn away when we see something going on that isn't right. You must speak out & expose the bad & ugly things you see going on for change to happen in our native communities. If our communities & families are to become healthy, happy & be as they should be in a good way we sometimes have to stir up things & cause folks to want to change for the good. Nothing ever happened by just talking about it or gripping about something. Only getting up, exposing the bad things to the light & getting the bad elements out of our communities. Our communities need to return to shunnings like we used to when bad people came into the camp. Driving evil ones out of our camps either willingly or unwillingly drive them out. No one said this is going to be an easy thing, but it is a neccessary thing if our people are to become healthy in mind, in spirit & in our homes. Instead of just sitting by & talking about something, get up & get out in your communities & get folks excited about making the changes that need to be to return balance to our homes, respecting our elders & knowing who we are as a people, being proud of who we are & who our familiy is. Pray to the Creator for this change of returning to the ways of the ancestors & leaving the evil & unhappiness of the Washichu ways behind.Pray to the Great Spirit to bring peace to our homes that are troubled, bring joy & happiness to our young ones lives & among our native communities. Pray that Man Above gives us each the strength to take that stand against what is wrong & stand up for the things that are right & of a good way. Hoa! Two Bears Growling Buffalo's Thunder
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
Its a tough business,, I worked as a therapist with families that had children in foster care. Sometimes the social worker, courts, foster parents and therapists sabotaged each other... sometimes it was a question of turf, but was detrimental to the family. I think the system could work well under favorable circumstances, and only for dire need, but too often children were placed and replaced when the family was ready and willing to work. yet resources supported foster care rather than family therapy. I dont think one story characterizing the risks as being community and family is always valid.
Anonymous's picture
This entire article can make anyone angry. First of all it is not the State's responsibility to raise these children. Secondly, ICWA is not responsible for taking care of these children either. The responsibility for taking care of these children belongs to the parents. I have worked with Native American parents who were referred to a tribal program. And maybe there are some people off the reservation who have dysfunctional relationships too. But too often I saw couples get together who didn't even know each other, having children, bringing in a new girlfriend or boyfriend out of convenience. If the boyfriend in this story did not want "Harmony" he should have stayed away from "Harmony's" family, and her mother. There are men(?) out there who prey on vulverable women without remorse, when the demands get to big they leave, ... What kind of a mother doesn't see abuse, that is down right stupid. The mother should have gotten rid of the boyfriend, but then again maybe he was fulfilling a need for her. There are women who think they need a man to validate their identity. I feel for "Harmony" she was way too young to live this way, an ADULT should 've been there for her. "Harmony" had no business blaming herself. Unfortunately there are children out there who are trapped in situations like her's, wanting out but no where to go. Not wanting to tell on their parents out of fear. There are parents out who think they're giving their children a life, but what kind of a life is it when there is no hope, despair, abuse, degradation, etc. Thank You, Donna Ennis for writing this story...