Aka Karen -- One Child's Story

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Karen was just three weeks past her 13th birthday when Child Protective Services in Payson placed her in foster care because her stepfather was molesting her.

Her experiences as a foster child in Payson were mixed, but she said that great foster parents can make all the difference to a confused child.

"I just want a lot of people to open up to these kids," said Karen. "Some of the kids are very troubled and need support. Just listen to them, sit down and talk with them, hear their stories, what is going on with them inside. That to me is the most important part of being a parent or a foster parent, for the child to feel loved and heard."

Karen said the foster family she was first placed with made her extremely unhappy.

"I lived with these people for about three-and-a-half years in the same situation. To me, they were supposed to be there to help me, and they just made my situation worse. There were a lot more things I had to overcome.

"They didn't like me and they and their older daughters walked all over me. I was grounded a lot. For the three-and-a-half years I lived with them, I was criticized and belittled to the point where I had no self esteem."

She said she was not allowed to talk with her parents and two brothers on the telephone, nor with friends.

"I wish I had had a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) because then maybe someone would have listened to my pleas for help and believed them."

She said she feels let down by her rotation of counselors at Rim Guidance Center and the other adults in her world who she said were spreading lies about her.

"I had nobody that I could sit down and talk to except for Von at CPS."

"I met (Karen) for the first time in person last month," said CASA director Cecile Masters-Webb. "I sat in several hearings of her case and always wished that we could have a CASA for her. She was always presented as a very high-functioning child. When the screenings were done to identify needs, there were other children that at that time were seen to be not so able to do for themselves, not able to speak up and speak out."

"I begged the foster parents who took care of me while my primary foster parents were on vacation to take me." Karen said. "At one point, I scratched my wrists with scissors in an effort to get attention for my needs."

After years of being told she was never going to get a job, that she would be a slut on welfare for the rest of her life, Karen said the system finally placed her with a new family.

"My new foster father was a big teddy bear and my new foster mom was my angel from heaven. I love them both dearly," Karen said.

A sparkle comes into her eyes when she talks about the special mirror and handmade vanity she had in her new home.

"My foster mother wrote little sayings around the mirror for me in colored permanent markers. Every morning when I would wake up to get ready for school, I would read, ‘You are a beautiful person. Everybody loves you. You are talented.' She really brought my self-confidence level up. She would sit down with me hours and hours and just talk about anything and everything."

When one foster parent listens to one desperate kid it can make all the difference Karen said.

It has been five years since Karen was in the system. She is happily married now with a child of her own. She is excited about being in the process of buying her first home. She still has contact with her second foster father and has made her peace with her mother.

"I feel like I am successful. We all take care of each other," she said of herself and her family.

Karen's name has been changed to protect her identity in the community.

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