Amanda Sweden’s entry into foster care began at age 9, when police surrounded a car she was riding in – she later discovered they were looking for drugs.

At the same time the car was stopped, police were raiding her mother’s house, investigating it for evidence of drugs.

Amanda Sweden, 27, and her dog, Kyle, last month at Kenduskeag Stream Park in Bangor, where she brings Kyle every day. Sweden lived with eight different foster families from age 9 to 16 and then lived in a group home, from which she ran away twice. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

She was removed from the home. Sweden entered the system, and moved eight times from age 9 to 16.

Sweden said she doesn’t blame Maine Department of Health and Human Services for the initial placement in foster care, as even when she was 9, she understood that her home at that time was unsafe because it was a “drug house.”

Sweden said she developed resilience, a never-give-up attitude. She learned that if she wanted something from DHHS caseworkers, she had to speak up for herself.

“I would stand up for myself and demand to be recognized as people and to be treated as such,” Sweden said.

At her first foster home in Bradford, if Sweden got in trouble on a Friday, it sometimes meant she wouldn’t eat until Monday because her foster parents withheld food. When she boarded the school bus, the driver or other students, feeling sorry for her and knowing she was hungry, would give her something to eat.

Her second foster home, in Danforth, where she turned 11 and 12, was the happiest place she lived while in foster care, a sprawling place on a lake, with Colby and Cindy Noyes. She would play in the woods and drive tractors with Colby.

But after nearly two years with the Noyes family, for reasons she still doesn’t understand, state caseworkers switched her to another home. Her brother, who through his sister declined to be interviewed for this story, also lived with the Noyes family but left about a year before she did.

Colby Noyes said he and Sweden became close, and he also doesn’t know why DHHS moved her out.

“She was doing fine with us. We didn’t think she should have gone to a different home,” Noyes said. “Maybe they (DHHS) thought we were holding her back? But she had more of a normal life with us than with anyone else she stayed with.”

After leaving the Noyes home, her circumstances worsened.

Sweden said when she arrived at one foster home, her foster mother told her she could only have clothes in her room.

“She took all my toys and belongings and threw them down the stairs,” Sweden said. She was body-shamed, made to try on swimsuits that were too large or too small and then told by her foster mom that she looked “disgusting” in all of them.

In one foster home, Sweden said all of her toys were in storage, so she improvised, making “paper people” by sketching out people on notebook paper, coloring them in, cutting them out and making up stories about them.

Just before turning 16, Sweden said she was placed into a group home in Brewer for teens who didn’t have foster families. She ran away twice and eventually moved back in with her mother when she was nearly 17, although legally she was still considered a foster child by the state. The apartment was small and she had disputes with her mother’s boyfriend, so sometimes she couch-surfed with friends or slept on a construction platform under a bridge in Bangor.

Once Sweden turned 18, she got her own place, worked at a gas station, and then later went to college at Eastern Maine Community College.

She has also worked as a corrections officer and is currently a security guard. This spring, Sweden said she plans to apply for the Bangor Police Department’s police academy. Sweden said she’s happy being independent.

“Once I got a taste of independence, that was it; I was never giving that back,” Sweden said. “I could finally have a place to call my own.”

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