Life can be complicated for average teen-agers raised by two parents in a stable home. It becomes anguishing for foster children who are constantly shifted from home to home.
Last night, 200 foster care teens were honored by the Baltimore City Department of Social Services for their tenacity and perseverance in overcoming obstacles during much of their adolescent lives.
Sinora Dabney, 18, has been in foster care for six years. She had waited for years to be rescued from an abusive environment, but social workers had told her they could do nothing because they had seen no signs of physical abuse.
"The verbal abuse can be just as bad," she said yesterday, before the banquet honoring her and other teens.
When the state intervened, Dabney, who is from Northwest Baltimore, was placed in several foster homes and changed schools four times.
"The hardest thing about being a foster kid is coping with so much change and moving from place to place," she said. "When you enter foster care, it's really hard. It's hard to trust people. You need people to trust and care for you."
Foster children's lives are also complicated by stigmas. They are often labeled as orphans, anti-social, lazy and suffering from psychological problems.
"I used to be embarrassed to tell my friends I was a foster child. But now I am proud of being a foster child. Foster care can do a lot of things for you," she said.
Dabney has indeed made a difficult situation work for her. She graduated from Baltimore City College with a 3.7 grade point average. She ran cross-country and track and was a member of the National Honor Society.
This fall Dabney is off to Clark University in Massachusetts on a partial scholarship that she received from her high school for leadership and academic excellence.
Other foster teens like Dabney were honored for their achievements, which included graduating from high school or receiving high school equivalency certificates, and getting college scholarships and honors in athletics and academics.
James Butler, a social worker with the department's Foster Care Teen Unit and coordinator of the teen banquet, believes that honoring these young people helps them.
"It gives these teens positive reinforcement and an incentive to continue to do better," he said.
"I feel honored," Dabney said. "I'm just glad I made it through it all.
"The best advice I can give to other foster children is to get a good education because no matter where you are, even if it is a foster home, you can rise above your situation and come out on top."