JOSEPH – “Given circumstances” is a term actors use to apply life experiences to a character or role.
For Phoenix, a 19-year-old theater student at Southern Oregon University, it’s like using one’s inner life to relate to a character. And for him, growing up in the foster care system has lent many inner life experiences to pull from.
“I first entered care at the age of four for about 6 months. Then I was returned to my bio mom. At five, I was placed in care again, then back to my bio mom. I’ve been in 13 different homes,” he says.
Like many children who enter the foster care system, Phoenix’s mother struggled with addictions that made it difficult for her to care for herself, and her children. And so started his journey with foster care. His experience in the system — his given circumstances — were a series of ups and downs.
“I’ve been in 4 different treatment facilities for depression. On my 13th birthday, I ended up in juvi because of my anger management issues. I had this whole theory that if I got kicked out of enough homes, I would have to go back to my bio mom,” he says.
But speak to Phoenix today, and it’s hard to believe he’s lived through these tough times. He overcame it all to graduate high school — with honors. He loves studying theater and spends his free time at improv shows and poetry slams. He hopes to one day join the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“My goals and dreams are to make a mark on the world through theater and foster care, help show how foster care can be seen in a good light.”
He credits a lot of his success to the adults and community members who were able to click with him and provide the right support.
“I had a foster family in Wasco who helped me work through my mental health issues and helped get me back on track. They would ask me what I wanted to do and encouraged me to participate in different extracurricular activities,” he says. It was while living with this family that Phoenix found his passion for acting.
When his case opened for the third time, Phoenix was assigned a case worker, Teresa, with whom he really connected. She got to know Phoenix and tried to understand what would truly be best for him. When Teresa realized he was very independent, she encouraged DHS to allow him to start a program that taught life skills, such as budgeting, grocery shopping, and independent living — even though he was too young for it, because she knew he was ready. She even helped Phoenix move to college.
“Teresa was like my second mom,” he says.
Phoenix also had a CASA who he met when he was 15 years old, and has stuck with him ever since. Ernest supported Phoenix’s passion for the arts and theater, always offering to attend his shows and even helping buy his art supplies. It’s this type of encouragement, and these types of supportive adults and community members, that can make or break a kid’s experience in the foster care system.
“We need a variety of parents and case workers with different skills, interests, and personalities so youth can connect with them” he says.
The role of community can play a powerful part in helping children in the foster care system. And for all the case workers, CASA advocates, and foster parents, ensuring they have the help they need to care for children is key.
Governor Kate Brown’s child welfare policy is focused on addressing the root causes that drive foster care placements, while also providing high-quality support for foster parents and case workers so they have the tools and resources to support and protect children.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of when you hear the word foster,” says Phoenix. “It’s just a lot of youth, who may need an extra hand, trying to make their way in the world.”