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Omaha Magazine

The Circle Unbroken: One Former Foster Child’s Journey

Oct 29, 2020 04:14PM ● By Sean McCarthy
queen's crown on purple background

Design by Matt Wieczorek

The summer sun in Nebraska usually finds a punishing way to announce it’s still in charge of people's lives around Sept.1. The Saturday before the 2020 Labor Day holiday, temperatures edged toward triple digits. It was not a day to spend outside for more than five minutes unless a pool was involved. 

It was the type of day to be thankful for a furnished, air-conditioned apartment. And 22-year-old Brittany Campbell was still getting settled in her new place. With the help of Heartland Family Services, Campbell was able to move out of the women’s shelter she was staying at earlier this summer. 

“I love it,” Campbell said in a phone interview. “It’s my size.” 

A few weeks before, Campbell sat at Hardy Coffee Co. in Benson. As she sipped on a cup of honey lavender lemonade, she recounted everything that led to her being in a woman’s shelter. The path had her in the foster care system twice (between ages 2 and 4 and from 13-18). It saw her through about 30 foster homes, and a few group homes and detention centers. She talked about the neglect she suffered at home and in the foster care system in a calm but direct, matter-of-fact tone. 

“I really didn’t have bad experiences in foster homes. I had bad experiences in group homes,” Campbell said. 

Campbell was one of the approximately 150 youth who age out of the foster care system in Nebraska yearly. She was removed from her mother’s care at age 2 and stayed in foster homes in Hamburg, Iowa. She was reunited with her mother at age 4 but returned to foster care at age 13. During her adolescent years, she was either in foster or group homes throughout Nebraska, including Omaha, Lincoln, Nebraska City, and Seward. Campbell said the worst facility was the Omni Behavioral Health Center (now Omni Inventive Care) in Seward. Campbell thought the place was so bad she tried to overdose on Tylenol. After a brief hospitalization, she was sent back to the facility. 

As bad as the group homes were for Campbell, the last place she wanted to be was with her mother. In a decision at her final hearing in 2016, months before her 19th birthday, Campbell was sent back to her biological mother against her wishes. In the hearing, Campbell said her case worker did not appear. Court documents obtained by Omaha Magazine indicate that attorney Jennifer Panko-Rahe, Campbell’s guardian ad litem (a court-appointed guardian that is appointed to represent a child) was present, and following the hearing, Campbell was reunited with her mother in Iowa. 

The reunion lasted only one night. 

After that night, according to Campbell, her mother drove Brittany to Omaha, asked her to go into a gas station and get a drink, and drove off. Campbell found her way to Youth Emergency Services. She said YES was helpful in providing her the resources she needed, such as housing. 

“They always had our back,” Campbell said. Little did she know, she would need help as a mother herself within a few months.

When she arrived at YES, Campbell said the foster care system didn’t prepare her for adulthood. She said the independent living program Bridge to Independence was brought up to her once, and she had little knowledge about the basics of money. That uncertainty only fueled her anxiety. 

“When it comes to being by myself, it’s scary because I wasn’t taught that,” said Campbell, who gave birth in March 2017 at age 19. 

Campbell’s time in the foster care system has shaped what she wants to do now that she has a place to stay. Originally, she wanted to be a foster care case worker and help others like her. Now, her dreams include completing her GED and going into nursing, specifically neonatal nursing. Campbell's first wish, however, is getting her daughter Amanda back from foster care. In late 2017, her months-old child was removed from her for child endangerment.

Campbell said the woman who is fostering her daughter was also one of her foster parents when she was a teenager. When asked what an ideal weekend would be, Campbell grinned and said it involved cooking for her daughter, and either watching movies with her in her apartment or taking her to the park. 

Campbell showed her forearm tattoo that has her daughter’s name on it. On the other forearm was the word “Queen.” Campbell said that tattoo represented everything that has led up to this point in her life. 

“A queen doesn’t just earn her crown. She has to go through all of the struggles to get where she is,” Campbell said. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.