SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) —There are over 500 children in the foster care system in Chatham County. Now, one former foster child is working to change the system for the better.
Shimaine Quimbley entered the foster care system at 8 years old after being sexually abused in her biological parent’s home. She was in 13 different placements until she aged out of the system at 18.
“It was a journey,” Quimbley said. “Honestly, it was very difficult, very challenging. I failed a lot. Of course, I failed, I was in all of these placements. It was very disturbing. It wasn’t normal. It really challenged me to look at myself as different.”
“No child in foster care will classify themselves as normal because we’re not treated as a normal child or adolescent,” she added. “We don’t have two parents in the home, not even one. We’re not even in a home we’re in a facility.”
Now, she is an advocate for foster kids nationwide. Throughout Quimbley’s transition out of the foster care system, she’s worked on the Foster Youth in Action’s Leaders United Board.
She is currently a sophomore at Albany State University, where she participates in Foster Through College. She hopes to eventually build an organization dedicated to improving the child welfare system.
“Being in the system is a game,” Quimbley said. “You’ve really got to play the game that best fits the path you want to go on, which is always success. If you know you’re in a placement you really hate, sometimes it’s best to not say anything.”
“Take it one day at a time and do what you need to do to make it,” she added. “That doesn’t mean fight. It doesn’t mean harm yourself. It doesn’t mean run away. It means swallow your pride and think about the future.
“All the thoughts of, ‘I’m going to be here forever,’ or, ‘nobody wants me.’ Really think about what do you want to become.”
The time Quimbley spent in foster care drove her to help other young people in the system because of the impact CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, made in her life.
“It took a lot of support,” Quimbley said. “Being honest, being themselves, being patient with me and being confident in their hearts and in their skills.”
CASA trains volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse and neglect.
CASA volunteers work to reduce the amount of time a child spends in foster care by working closely with the Department of Family and Children Services and the Juvenile Court. Studies show that a child who is appointed a CASA volunteer spend less time in foster care, have fewer placement disruptions and perform better in school.
“A CASA volunteer will visit their child once a month and check on them in their foster placement to make sure they’re doing okay,” Executive Director of Savannah-Chatham CASA Kate Blair said. “They’ll go to their school and make sure they’re getting the educational resources they need. They’ll be going to doctor’s appointments.
“They’re court-appointed so they have access to all their records, all they have to do is show their court order,” she added. “They advocate for them just as any person would advocate for their own child.”
The volunteers ensure that the child’s voice is heard and represented in the court system.
Due to the limited number of foster families in Chatham County, children in foster care are sent to other counties and often separated from their siblings. Unfortunately, it is rare for children in foster care to stay in their own schools, daycares or communities.
“One of the main issues is when a child ages out, right?” Communication and Development Committee Chair Antwan Lang said. “So, what does that look like? If a child is in foster care for many years, what does that foundation look like when they get out? What resources are available? How can they go to school if they want to go to school, whether it’s a trade school or four-year college? How do we make sure that they’re on the right track?”
CASA’s 90 volunteers were able to help 278 children last year.
“Keep going. I’m glad I haven’t stopped,” Quimbley said. “Even when it gets really hard and challenging I find hope to keep going.”