Digital Youth Museum

Welcome to the Think Of Us Digital Youth Museum. At Think Of Us, we engage foster youth in diverse, creative ways. In the Digital Youth Museum, you will find artwork, poems, and artifacts about the Child Welfare System, created by those who know the system the best: young people and those who have lived it first hand.

scroll to view
Trigger and content warnings
This report contains descriptions of:
Physical violence
Sexual violence
Emotional and verbal abuse
Drug and alcohol abuse
Eating disorders
Mental health and mental illness
Suicide and self-harm
Homophobia and transphobia
Young people were asked to contribute or describe a piece of art to a hypothetical museum exhibit about what life in institutional placements looks like.
A sketch of a 'home' with kids int he windows, some looking sad.

“That is what congregate care looked like for me. In the sketch you can see from the outside it looks like a home, but the youth in the home are expressing different emotions when it comes to these type of placements.”

— D.B.

“The ugly truth of the system - raping your mind and your body, killing you from the inside out.”

— (MP-MT-SC-01)

A sketch of a naked woman, a hand is ripping through her belly and blood is coming from her mouth.
a sketch of two people sitting back to back on the floor in a room with bars on the windows. A ray of light is shinning through the window.

“I think of what I drew as a piece that symbolizes us the kids in foster care feeling trapped. For me at least, my biggest fear is becoming my parents. I do not want to fail in my life and I feel trapped in the fear of getting old.

I also think it shows how the adults are turned on one another but there is these children inside them trying to get out...I do not think a youth should be limited just because there is some unforeseen obstacle in the way.

Lastly, you see an almost prisoner-like setting because being in the system can feel like a prison or life sentence. I think anyone who has not experienced congregate care does not know these emotions, but I hope someone can find my meaning within this drawing.”

— (TF-ST-AZ-01)

“To me congregate care was rough. It was dark and desolate with bright white walls. I was surrounded by nothing but pain and trauma. Made to relive trauma that I already lived in day to day.

When I was at (group home) I watched my best friend commit suicide. I remember running through the dorm hall up the cottage stairs to get help, by then it was too late. I ended up restrained because suddenly I couldn’t handle my emotions, meanwhile other staff and emergency responders couldn’t get past the barricade (my friend) put in front of her door.

She was only 12 years old and I was 11."

— (TF-ST-AZ-01)

I color pen drawing of 4 doors with grills over the windows, there are figures running towards one of the doors. In this door a girl has hung herself.
A collage of 7 images. With 3 on the top row is someone rock climbing, a silhoute of a man at the sarting position of race, an outline sketch of someone sitting on the floor hugging their knees and head buried in their knees. A central image of a brief case with the words 'I was just a case file'. 3 bottom images, a pair of handcuffs, a person with 4 black bin bags and a car in background and a judge standing at the bench.


— (GH-LT-CA-01)

“Without them (institutional placements), kids who do absolutely need them would be homeless.”

— Jozlyn Kihlstadius

A sketch showign a road with sidewalks, buildings and someone sleeping on the street, there is an arrow pointing to them and a label 'homeless'
Young people were asked to imagine being invited to an open mic session and asked to say a poem, spoken words, rap, or short song about their time in institutional placement.

— Timothy Dennis

What is normal?
Is it a feeling?
Perhaps an emotion
Whatever it is

I will never know
Is it a prescription?

What aisle is it at the grocery store?
Is it something I can even afford
Wherever would I find it?

What does it smell like?
Can you touch it?
Perhaps it tastes good

But how would I know if I found it?
What is normal?


“This is poem/spoken word is about my time in a group home of 24 boys at the age of 9, also referred to as the ‘boys ranch.’ I had many other experiences there but this is what came to my mind first and thought I would share.”

— (GH-MT-CA-01)

24 kids under one roof
Numbered like cattle and treated like a spoof
Clawing my way to the top of this hierarchy set in place
Because those in charge set it out to be a race
To be number one is all I wanted
To be number one was what they told us to be
“More outings, more privileges,” they would say
Crazy to think they pinned us against each other instead of letting us play
Alone I felt, with no friends in sight
On the swing set I would try to avoid any fight
Back and forth I’d rock, swinging too high
Hoping it was enough to let me fly
Over the fences, they placed us in
Being only nine, I could not win
They told us horror stories about those who ran away
So I clipped my wings and decided to stay
One phone call a week, I could hear my brother
So sad and alone, we needed each other
The call always ended in tears
Alone back I would be with my fears
24 kids, there was under this roof
24 kids, all searching for proof

The Forgotten Ones

— Sheila Mae Sommerfeldt

Inside, I still feel like this lost 9 year old child
Corner of her room, hugging her knees
Scared, lost and completely alone
Intimidated by the world going around.

Institutional routine, staff switch day/night,
“Sign above the dotted line...
Thank you, next!”

We are
Like zombies;
Highest dosages
The doctor can prescribe

Indestructible four walls
And a bulletproof window
Impossible to escape
This hell
Regardless, there’s nowhere to go!

Like prisoners,
Like dogs,
Accepted and excused
By the public eye
Loved and cared for
By none

We are the forgotten ones
That unwillingly surrendered our souls
Wishing this nightmare could just be done.

To the devil I sold my soul
A dozen heads roam ‘round slow
Hopeless, lost children
Institutionalised and hating themselves
No clue what life could have been like
If another human being
In this world, so large
Could have seen
The potential my eyes promised
Glowing green eyes, filled with strength
Outshining, glistening, with hope
They screamed the need to beloved!
But my destiny was already wrote.

That Child

— (GH-LT-CA-01)

The “perfect foster child” everyone wanted in their home, but no one wanted to nurture.

That foster child,
Only good enough to show off,
But not worthy of love and care from those trusted with her care.

Fighting for full custody of her life,
fighting for respect, a privilege never before had,
this foster child is shunned, shushed, ignored and made a void.

Wondering what the “perfect foster child” did so wrong
she just followed the image the pedestal her foster parents and social workers had.

Hidden when inconvenient, lifted up when vital
Tokenized for funding, penalized for truth speaking.

May as well have been the same psychological warfare before care – different rules, same fool.

Learning to ride the ocean of the foster care system,
Surviving the same beach as what was home before care, just a different wave.

The pedestal always within reach, but the strings have restrictions
The prize was freedom — The restriction was life.

Young people were asked to take a picture of an object in their possession that reminds them of their time in  institutional placements.
Green monster plush toy with an X for an eye and red tongue sticking out
Teal colored monster soft toy. it has two round eyes on top of one another and some small fangs coming out from its mouth.

“This is a two faced plush toy. I received it the night I went into foster care (January 08, 2009). I named him “No-Face” because he had more than one face, I saw it fitting that just like my life, his face wasn’t set. It was a long, anxiety ridden, lonely night on the twin mattress in the foster care shelter. It was cold, the mattress crinkled every time I moved since it had a plastic barrier under the fitted sheet (which I assumed was to ensure that if someone peed themselves it wouldn’t soak on the mattress) and I could hear the staff talking. All I had was the plush toy, some extra clean underwear and the clothes I came in with.

This plush toy was my anchor, something I could tangibly hold onto while I feared the rest of what was to come. To this day, I take that plush toy with me on every milestone and move I take. It has come to signify that I am not alone.”

— (GH-LT-CA-01)

“I still have all my journals and sketchbooks from the time I spent in care. These things were used as a way to express my very complex emotions when I couldn’t verbalize it, or didn’t feel like talking it out.

Art/poetry and writing in general helped me find a positive outlet to express my often very strong emotions. It became away for me to slow down and stop self-harming.

The creativity also taught me even though it was just the beginning to love myself. These items serve as a reminder of the beginning of my story and yet symbolize how amazingly far I have come.”

— (MP-MT-CO-02)

Notebooks with handwritten poems
Black duffel bag

“I have this duffel bag that was given to me the very first time I ever went into care. I have kept it this long, and it just reminds me to never get comfortable anywhere until I finally reach my goals. This duffel bag has been with me since the beginning of my journey and even though it started out rocky, it’s a part of my testimony.”

— (MP-LT-SC-01)

“This is the Pooh bear my grandpa gave me when I was a baby. I lovePooh, because no matter the situation, he always stays positive and I want to be like that.”

— Alexis O.

Pooh bear
blanket on bed

"It was January 4th, 2016 at around2am in the morning when I received this blanket pictured in the photo. Today, it’s September 17th, 2020, and I still sleep with this same blanket every night. Back in the beginning of 2016, I was taken away and put into a temporary emergency shelter in downtown LA. When I got there, I was handed a matching grey sweatsuit that was in my mind equivalent to a prison jumpsuit.

There were rows of cot beds and every single child that lay there wore the same thing. A middle aged African American woman handed me this blanket as a gift. She said it was one of the “extra”Christmas presents they had laying around for the kids who were going to be removed around the holidays. This blanket is a vivid memory of my past life living in shelters, group homes, my first dorm in college, and now my own apartment.”

— Jacqueline Robles

“This was ’jail mail’ when I was in the group homes, jail, or treatment facilities. For a very long time I was the only one without mail coming in. It meant so much to other people to receive mail. I still have the mail to this day and reflect on written passages from time to time.”

— (MP-MT-NE-02)

Yellow, orange and red envelopes with writing on
White and purple crochet stitched bunny rabbit

“Someone made this for my son whileI was pregnant with him staying at (a group home) and felt alone.”

— (MP-MT-NE-02)

“I honestly have nothing from my childhood besides a backpack. (This)backpack was what I took with me to carry all my things.”

— (MP-MT-KY-01)

Pink backpack
Worn out grey elephant plush toy

“This is Trunks, a stuffed elephant given to me by my sister on the day we were separated. She was the last family member I had left, so when we were put in separate placements, I was devastated. Trunks was one of the only things I was able to hold onto through all of it, and he gave me strength to keep going.”

— (MP-MT-SC-01)

“This is a quilt that was custom made for me while I was at my group home.A knitting group knitted hand made quilts for each and everyone one of the kids at the group home but mine was the hardest since my suggestion as to what I wanted on my quilt(wolves) was very hard to find! I’ve probably had this quilt for 3-4 years now and I hope to keep it with me for the rest of my life.”

— Carrie Thomas

Wolf quilt
Biege fluffy bear wearing t-shirt

“I went to foster care at the age of nine years old and two years prior I had received this teddy bear. The teddybear’s name is Kiki, and I kept her with me because she made me feel safe and she reminded me of home.

This teddy bear had the scent from my mom’s home, and it always gave me hope that I would eventually go back home. Even though I never returned home, I still value my teddy bear for being my crutch in my time of need.”

— (MP-MT-NE-04)

“In my last group home I made a really good friend, and she wrote me a letter when things were going really bad in the facility.”

— MaryJane Summers

Handwritten notes
Baby cat plush toy

“This is a beanie baby cat that my social worker gave me while I was in care. I keep this because it is a reminder of where I came from. It keeps me grounded and humble.”

— Tamara Vest

Away From Home