Looking back on her 15 years in foster care, 22-year-old Shavonn Wheeler regrets never getting close to the adults who cared for her.
“I wish I had gained more loving and more meaningful relationships with my foster care parents,” she said in a recent interview. “I also wish I had gained trust in the foster care system because in foster care you learn not to trust anybody.”
Wheeler’s reasons to distrust the adults around her came early.
When she entered the foster care system at 6 years old, she had no idea she would never return to her mother. None of her foster parents or her social workers warned her. “I was abandoned by my mom and it was never acknowledged … nobody ever sat me down and told me ‘you’re not gonna go home.'”
Other things added to her wariness along the way.
Eighty-one percent of girls and female teens in foster care suffered from sexual abuse, according to a 2009 study published by the American Journal of Maternal /Child Nursing. Sixty-eight percent reported abuse by more than one person while in foster care.
Wheeler did not escape those statistics. She said she endured sexual abuse while in foster care. She declined to go into detail about what happened. All she would say is that she had been taken advantage of sexually more than once by male figures while she was in the system.
Wheeler aged out of foster care last year and is living alone in subsidized housing in Brooklyn, N.Y., where this interview was held. She recently graduated from Kingsborough Community College and is attending the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.