Martina, 19, is a young Lumos self-advocate from Czech Republic who loves sports, music, and reading. She was placed in an institution as a baby, and spent almost three years there – but for the last 16 years, she has lived in a foster family.
“I belong to a twelve-member family. My parents have 8 children in foster care, mostly children who have problems getting into a family for different reasons. This is why our family is varied. My foster parents have also two of their own children."
Martina’s foster parents welcomed her into their family when she was three years old. She says they chose her “because I did not have a chance to be placed in a family because of the colour of my skin, and because of my biological family.”
When she was a child, Martina often imagined what life would be like if she were still in the institution:
“I would not know family life – I’d just watch it on the TV on the sofa in the institution. I would not have a place I can come back to in any weather. Maybe I would not have forgiven my biological parents, because the maternal love from my foster mother has helped me to forgive them. I wouldn’t have a family – a father, a mother, and siblings who love me unconditionally.
Every child needs love from their parents - it’s like a suit of armour that helps to protect them through life’s struggles. To have a loving and functional family is not a matter of course, but it should be. Having a family and home is more important than being a member of some social group.”
“I think it is very important to invest in families – to help children stay in their families, or find them a new family and help them to stay together. It’s like investing in a blacksmith, where the armour for children is made with love.”
“Because it is not possible to have a normal family life in an institution. I know how the family works, because I am lucky to live in a loving foster family.”
"Every child needs love from their parents - it’s like a suit of armour that helps to protect them through life’s struggles."
Transitioning to foster care can be challenging for children who have never lived outside of an institution. Fortunately, Martina had the love of her family, and a strong support network, to help her thrive in her new surroundings.
“Who stood behind me throughout the whole process? It was an active social worker and especially the foster parents and their persistence and will to have me in their care – they wanted to get me out of the institution. What helped me to be part of the community, to be socially adaptable, was the fact that I had new siblings and learned how to live with them in one family.
At kindergarten and school, I was the pupil from a foster family – but if somebody doubted my family, my brother, who was white (my foster family was his birth family), protected me and stood up for me. Thanks to my brother I never needed to use physical strength to “punch” the kids with preconceptions. I had my bodyguard and the people in the community accepted me as being part of the family.
Our neighbours were other people who I could meet and socialise with. This was, for me, a wider family and I was lucky to have neighbours without preconceptions. I have no clue how this would be possible behind the walls of an institution.
I also visited the after school classes which were offered in the community, where I found friends who had similar interests.
But what I found very important was meeting other foster families at weekends. These meetings were organised by the NGO Amalthea, and I could share my problems with people who understood my situation even though they were not my family.
What the public needs to understand about children in foster care is this: people should not get angry with children in foster care, or say that the children are trouble and difficult to bring up. This misconception makes it difficult for children to adapt to a new community.”
Martina recently moved to Prague to study social work. In her spare time, she is a member of Lumos’ Youth Advisory Board and self-advocate, and volunteers for a project for homeless people.