There probably aren’t a lot of people who experience the foster care system and call it a blessing in disguise.
Then again, there aren’t many people like Krystine Dykes. She’s 28 and she basically rescued two younger brothers far-from-ideal foster care situations to give them a home they could trust and feel safe in. It was also a home she filled with love.
May is National Foster Care Month, and at Children’s Aid we’re shining a light on some of the people who have opened their homes and arms to young people who desperately need a source of stability. We couldn’t start with anyone better than Krystine.
She was 8 when she went into the foster care system. And she would eventually have seven siblings, all of whom eventually landed in foster care. There large number would make it extremely difficult to keep them together.
She saw it all during her long stretch in care--foster homes, emergency shelters, group homes. “I’ve been through the change of foster care itself,” said Krystine, referring to how much reform child welfare has been through in recent decades.
Krystine left foster care when she was 22, having become estranged from her mother and having lost touch with some of her siblings. So she was surprised to find out, when she was 25, that two of her brothers still in the system were in danger of being separated. This situation was especially problematic because both brothers have disabilities; the younger, Marc, has cerebral palsy.
Krystine found out that the same lawyer that represented her when she was in foster care was overseeing her brothers’ cases. She called. “I want my brothers,” she said. “Whatever I have to do to get them, I’m going to do it.”
Soon, Marc and De’Anthony were getting used to living with the big sister they really didn’t know so well. It wasn’t easy for any of them. “There are times where I think, ‘I can’t do this,’” said Krystine. “Then Marc will come give me a hug or a kiss for no reason.”
She says the boys are such a big part of who she is now. De’Anthony is 22 and was already on his way to independence when he came to live with Krystine. Today he has a job working for a document retention and destruction firm and lives in an assisted living facility in Staten Island with several other men. Krystine and Marc visit every weekend. Marc is in high school and doing well. They have had an impact on Krystine, too, who works as a bartender at night but would like to return to the college education she started and become a social worker.
“I’m a strong woman,” she said. “I have a lot more patience than I would have if it weren’t for them. I’m a lot more calm in what I allow to bother me these.”
And she wants to foster more teenagers, perhaps girls. “Kids in foster care are scared to be themselves because they get bounced around,” said Krystine. “They’re so guarded. But they have so much potential so much talent. I would like to take a lot of girls under my wings.”
She’s an active advocate for kids in foster care as well as a recruiter of new parents. “Take a chance,” she said. “Let them know that this is not it. Just being a teen in foster care, I encourage parents to include them and make them feel on the own. Make us feel like you’re part of the family.”