Some students have a fairly simple description of where they’re from, answering the question with a single location. Others specify they were born in another country and immigrated to the U.S., or grew up across the country before moving to Pennsylvania. Tari Sloan, a senior English major, explains that she’s been making the transition from home to home for the last seven years. Now, she’s preparing herself for life after “the system.”
Born in Georgia, Sloan’s biological mother died when she was 4 years old. After four years of being raised by her father, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, he was declared unfit to raise her. For five years, Sloan lived with other family members in Georgia until she became part of “the system” at age 13.
Her first home within the foster care system was with her uncle and his fiancé in Pennsylvania, through a program called Kinship Care. Following this stay, Sloan’s living quarters varied from foster homes, youth shelters and girls’ homes.
Sloan graduated high school early, when she was 16 years old and then decided to come to Temple. Since she was a minor at the time, she wasn’t allowed to live in the residence halls and had to spend an additional year in her girls’ home in Doylestown, from where she commuted. Following this, Sloan lived in a residence hall and then in her own off-campus apartment.
Being one of the oldest girls in the home, Sloan was granted more freedom than her housemates, but tried to take advantage of this in a positive way.
“I was the source of fun and enjoyment [in the girls’ home]. I’d use my freedom to go buy Christmas presents and things like that. I tried to give back and do as much as I could,” Sloan said.
She acknowledged the negative environment and the stigma that is typical of the welfare system’s reputation. This negative view is a result of the “selfish people” who get involved in the system, since there is a financial element to becoming a foster parent. She explains that it’s a never-ending cycle, in which kids don’t have examples of positive, caring lifestyles to emulate.
“I like the fact that I’m forced to do this stuff because it makes me a better person and I’m able to be a positive example,” Sloan said, in reference to her seemingly uphill struggles.
Her positivity is reflected in her attempts to mend bridges with those she may have hurt through her foster care experience, mainly her uncle, who she stayed with first. The two hadn’t spoken in years after a falling out, but Sloan has recently come to terms with her past and has made amends, she said.
One of the biggest differences between Sloan and some others in the system is that she’s learned to use the system to her advantage.
Some kids decide to sign themselves out of the system early, and others don’t fulfill the requirements necessary to continue after turning 18 years old. To be part of the system after entering adulthood, one has to pursue secondary education, whether it’s college or technical school, and maintain a certain grade point average, as well as work a job for at least eight hours per week.
People who “age out,” or turn 18 without a plan to pursue secondary education, are at a high risk for many things, including substance abuse, breaking the law, homelessness and unemployment, according to a study published by the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.
As Sloan explains, most students have parents or other family members to lean on emotionally and financially, even after turning 18. However, people who age out are often left with nothing, Sloan said. Money, health insurance and certain grants for school are pulled out from underneath them.
To avoid this fate, Sloan has made a point to take advantage of programs the system offers. Until she turns 21 next year, Sloan will continue to check in with a judge every six months and have her health monitored by the state. She will graduate this spring with her degree in English and a minor in LGBT studies, as well as only $320 of debt.
Along with her friend and fellow LGBT rights activist, Francisco Cortes, Sloan plans on moving to San Diego, Calif., within the next year or so to complete law school. She wants to become a civil rights lawyer, “Like Jessica Biel in ‘Chuck and Larry,’” she said. “Just being sexy and fighting for the gays.”
Cortes met Sloan through their mutual involvement in Queer Student Union, for which Sloan is now the events coordinator and Cortes is the vice president. They bonded and got closer when they participated in Philly AIDS Walk last year. Cortes recalls Sloan revealing her participation, non-dramatically, in the system at this time.
“She’s very open and very honest. She just fully accepts it as a part of her and her growing up. It’s just a part of the story,” Cortes said.
He said that sometimes people may be a little taken back or surprised at Sloan’s past in foster care, because she’s so grounded and self-motivated. He also relayed her sincere dedication to and investment in the gay rights movement as an ally.
The move to California was originally a playful dream and joke between the two. Then, Sloan and Cortes got serious and decided they were both ready for a change, and wanted to go somewhere their backgrounds would be useful.
They are both looking forward to the new experience, and are especially excited about the weather. Cortes said he wants “to be able to go out in his bathing suit during Christmas time,” and Sloan said she wants to “be able to grocery shop in her bikini.”
Morgen Snowadzky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.