The last time senior Elijah Miller saw his parents was when he was an infant.
Miller jumped from family to family for 16 years, where he battled the mental struggles of not having a sense of permanency and where his entire existence was determined by a file. Two years ago, Miller was taken out of the foster care system and left a life of group homes, special care programs and foster homes behind.
“I didn’t stay with a [foster] family for very long,” Miller said. “It was really on and off. I can sort of remember the families, but I don’t remember any names. I remember faces and there are places I can sort of remember.”
Since he was a baby, Miller was in and out of foster homes all over the state, from Shurtz, to San Antonio to Waco. He lived in 6 different homes, and the longest he stayed with a family was for 3 years.
“I was really adaptive with every foster home,” Miller said. “It was normal for me to have a schedule where everything is planned out. I’m like, ‘what are the rules? What do I have to do? I just want to stay here, so tell me what I have to do to stay here.’”
When he was 10, Miller was placed in his first group home called Methodists Children’s Home in Waco. This group home had 4 houses with 2 rooms with 4 people to a room in a dorm-style set up, where the children were expected to be on a time-based schedule.
“There was stuff to do there and outside of the group home,” Miller said. “They had a gym, a basketball court, dodgeball and a ropes course. I didn’t go on that because I’m afraid of heights. Outside of the group home, we would get together in this van and go to Landsharks, I’m not sure if it’s still around, but it’s like a Game Stop. We would play games. We would eat out sometimes.”
During the holidays, children could either choose to see their biological families or stay in the group home. On Thanksgiving, there would be a feast in the cafeteria. On Christmas Day, a magnificent pine tree stood in the dining room with presents tucked underneath.
“I stayed there because I didn’t know any of my family,” Miller said. “I don’t like to have resentment [for kids with normal families] but obviously I did. I always blamed it on the people who took care of me or my parents. Sometimes I would blame it on myself because I would think maybe they didn’t want me. I would always blame someone.”
Miller’s biological father is a convicted felon and his biological mother passed away back in 2012 when Miller was only 10 years old.
“From what I’ve heard, and from what I can read from my file, she was a drug addict,” Miller said. “I didn’t know how to react to her death. I had a bunch of mother and father figures and to have one of my actual parents die, I didn’t really know how to react to it.”
Miller’s time in the foster care system was being tightly documented through a file. This file contained information on his history living with certain families, his level of security, and his mental health.
“I couldn’t really tell [the caseworkers] what I wanted to say because everything was documented and put into my file,” Miller said. “If you read it, and if whatever I said was read the wrong way, then they could say ‘oh, this kid’s really weird, let’s keep him in the foster system. Lets up his security.’”
Security for a child can range from basic, low security, specialized, high security, and extreme security.
“I was kind of a troubled child,” Miller said. “I was in specialized care. I would get into trouble sometimes, but not too much to where they would put me somewhere and I would stay there forever.”
In 2015, Miller went to an adoption event in Brenham to meet different families. At an adoption event, if a child likes a particular family, they can speak to their case worker to try and stay with that family to be adopted.
“I met a few families at the adoption event,” Miller said. “I can’t remember their names, but I do remember the Thompsons, which is the family I live with now. When I first met them, I was playing basketball. I was really bad at it.”
Miller would attend visits with the Thompsons first. As time moved on, he was allowed to stay the weekend with them until eventually he was able to live with his new family.
“I was pretty lucky to be adopted at 16,” Miller said. “That never happens. That’s like a one in a million chance. Normally parents adopt younger kids like 10 and under because they’re cuter and they can grow up to be what they want them to be. I was really lucky. A lot of people don’t understand what people in foster care go through.”
An adoption process can take anywhere from 6 months to a year, and is built upon the child’s file. Case workers took into account Miller’s history with mental health and his security level when placing him into a home.
“They’re totally my parents,” Miller said. “After my depression, I realized it wasn’t me and it wasn’t anyone else, it just happened for some reason, so I’m just going to continue on and hopefully things will get better.”