FOSTERING WITH WORDS & PICTURES
Each year in New Mexico, about 300 kids turn 18 and “age out” of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. No longer in the custody of the state’s Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD), they use what resources are available to them through transitional living and advocacy programs, but adjusting to early adulthood can be tumultuous. By the time they age out, most of the kids have lived in dozens of foster and group homes, where they received inconsistent levels of care and fluctuating levels of abuse, and this is after being removed from their homes of origin which were, at best, situations rife with neglect so severe someone saw fit to contact authorities in the first place.
“The reason my brother and I were put into foster care was because multiple times my mother proved she couldn’t take care of even herself,” said Megan Rebecca Tetreault, aged 19. “Basically, she tried to kill herself, so [my brother and I] got sent to live with our aunt and uncle, but that didn’t work out.” Tetreault and her brother were put in multiple foster homes before another relative offered to adopt them, but that placement turned out to be so abusive that Tetreault’s brother ran away and then, a few months later, Tetreault brought the couple’s biological children with her to CYFD. Today, Tetreault lives in Englewood, Colorado, and works at Sonic. She is taking a break from college to get more comfortable living on her own.
“Going through foster care definitely gives you a lot to think about,” she said, which is why she started keeping a diary at a young age. “I started by just writing about my day and how I felt about certain situations. I wrote why I was sad or mad, or how excited I was for something. Then I turned them into poems and short stories.” She is currently working on two novels, and three of her poems are included in Ask Me Who I Am: Writing and Art by New Mexico CYFD Youth, edited by former Santa Fe poet laureate Valerie Martínez, the executive director of Littleglobe, Inc., and Maureen Burdock, an affiliate artist with Littleglobe. (Littleglobe, in cooperation with the Global Education Fund and with support from the McCune Charitable Foundation, was responsible for the book’s publication.) The content of the book — poems and drawings — was created entirely by older foster youth, many of whom are interested in expressing themselves through artistic means. “When the kids are older and they’ve had a lot of placements, they’re less likely to get adopted,” said Martínez, who with her husband became a licensed foster parent in order to care for their niece. “I was fascinated by the older ones who’d made it through with so many placements, and the deep well they have to create from.” Some of the youth read from their work on Saturday, Feb. 12, at Collected Works Bookstore. Actress Ali MacGraw also reads from the collection. The event is free of charge; all proceeds from the sale of the book benefit Adelante Youth Advocates of New Mexico, a grass-roots support program for youth aging out of the foster system.
Lauren Markie Huichan, 18, is serving her second term as president of Adelante. She aged-out nine months ago and now attends the University of New Mexico, where she has a double major in psychology and sociology. She depends on the monthly stipend and other support she receives from the CYFD independent-living program, which lasts until she is 21. Huichan began writing poems after she was removed from her home at age 12 and separated from her identical twin sister. In her last two years in the custody of the state, she was in 22 placements, including foster homes, group homes, and psychiatric hospitals. “With writing, I could express myself without people really