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Tashima Dukes: A tireless advocate for children in foster care

Author and foster care advocate Tashima Dukes (Photo courtesy of Tashima Dukes)

Children across the United States who are traumatized, neglected, abused and abandoned wind up in the foster care system.

According to the Administration for Children and Families, a  division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  437,500 children were in the foster care in 2016.

Tashima Dukes was once one of those children, bounced around from one home to the next before finally aging out of the foster care system. Knowing the negative impact that can have on children, Dukes made it her priority to raise her voice and speak on their behalf.

She is an advocate and expert trainer in the foster care system. She holds a certification in sexual abuse counseling and grief counseling as well as three advanced master’s degrees, and she is working toward a Ph.D. in psychology. With more than 13 years of counseling experience, she advises foster parents and foster care administrators on how to better understand the enduring hardships so many foster children suffer.

Dukes is the author of Truth Be Told: A Foster Child’s Recollection, which was released in January. Dukes shared with rolling out why she feels it is important to be a voice for children in the foster care system.

As a Black woman/woman of color, what do you consider your superpower to be? 

As a woman of color, I believe my greatest superpower is my ability to be resilient. During my lifetime, I have had to overcome some insurmountable odds. Specifically, aging out of foster care after being placed in 13 different foster homes, being abandoned by family numerous times, and trying to make sense of the eight possible men who could be my biological father. My second superpower is entrenched in my ability to provide a voice to the less privileged and the underserved, regardless of the consequence, [and] specifically children in foster care who are in need of advocacy.

How did being in foster care affect you mentally, physically and spiritually?

When I was a child, one of my greatest challenges was abandonment. Moving from place to place causes a great deal of hyper-vigilance. As I moved from home to home, I began to always anticipate the next move. I would listen closely to the phone conversations that my foster mother would have with other people and would prepare my heart for the next transition. When I became an adult, I was still on the move. If I started a new job, I would never decorate my desk or personalize my office because I knew I was not staying long.

 Why did you write Truth Be Told: A Foster Child’s Recollection?

I wrote this book to give hope to foster children. When I graduated from college, I landed a job with the same foster care agency that placed me in a home in Philadelphia. As a social worker every Monday I would encounter numerous foster children who were left in the front lobby after a rough weekend at home. I wanted to provide a real-life example of someone who made it through the foster care system despite the trauma, abuse, abandonment and a great deal of adversity.

What advice can you offer people who desire to be foster parents?

Foster parenting is a huge job that should not be taken lightly. In addition, it has the potential to be a thankless job. Potential foster parents should ensure that they are enlisting in this job for all of the right reasons. There is no dollar amount that can be paid to compensate a foster parent for the work that they do. Foster parents must remember that they have a major opportunity to make a positive impact [on] or add trauma to a child’s life. Finally, and most importantly, foster parents should not threaten foster children with the idea of not having a family. I often provide training and have to remind foster parents of the dangers associated with telling foster children that they could be dropped off. Foster children are often hyper-vigilant, and they are known to test limits. Therefore, sometimes these children want to see how long it will take before they are abandoned again.