Growing up, Dylan Rae Metcalfe could do whatever she wanted.
“My mom let me do all kinds of sideways shit,” she said. “Like, if I wanted to smoke pot or drink or smoke cigarettes or have sex or whatever, my mom allowed it ‘as long as it's happening in the house.’ That was awesome to me.”
But looking back, Metcalfe sees that her life at home wasn’t productive for her as a teenager.
“My thing was neglect, mostly,” she said of her relationship with her mom. Child Protective Services had been involved in her life since she was 2 years old, and she had lived with various relatives. Her mom suffers from schizophrenia and depression, which related to how she raised her daughter.
Ultimately, Metcalfe was placed in a group home in seventh grade, around age 12.
“It was very much group home in the sense that you have to check in, you have to check out, the cabinets are locked, every time you come in, you have to be searched,” she said.
She wasn’t a fan of the group home structure because the rules felt restrictive compared to her childhood. She ran away several times. Sometimes the police came to get her.
“My caseworker was like, ‘What do I need to give you so you stay?’” Metcalfe said. “I told her I wanted a home.”
Eventually she did find a family: two foster moms and a few other foster kids. But this meant following rules, like going to school, doing homework and not drinking or smoking. She was still fighting the home, fighting authority, fighting everything — and her foster moms became fed up.
“They were like, ‘This is crap, and we want to love you and support you, but if you're not trying to be part of that, then we're not trying to be part of you.’”
Metcalfe wanted to prove to her foster moms that she could care, so she tried this new life with more structure.
Statistics for foster kids are grim. Thirty percent graduate from high school, and fewer than 3 percent get a college degree. But Metcalfe was motivated.
She decided to trust her foster moms, because the alternative was returning to a group home. By trying to prove she could care about school, she ended up actually caring. To graduate on time, she completed four years of high school in two years.
Metcalfe went to Western Washington University for a few years. She’s now 26 and works as a laborer on the SR-99 Tunnel replacement.
“It’s pretty awesome,” she said.
Metcalfe is still in contact with her biological mom and understands that the reason behind her neglect was mental illness.
She knows that foster kids struggling through similar situations probably won’t listen to her — because why trust a stranger when no one else in your life has proven to be trustworthy?
But Metcalf believes trust was the key to her success. This is her advice to other foster kids: “Look at those people who are trying to help and try and trust them. I 100 percent believe that trust is the cornerstone of a successful foster person.”
Metcalfe says she wouldn’t have graduated high school or stopped smoking and drinking if she hadn’t stopped fighting her foster moms.
These days, she doesn’t smoke or drink except for “special occasions.” She has learned how to live by her own rules.
This story was created in RadioActive Youth Media's 2017 After-School Workshop for high school students at New Holly in partnership with Seattle Housing Authority. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.