What Happens to Former Foster Youth?

This was a speech, and later published article, delivered by Mr. Bill Stanton, former foster youth and current Board Chair of Foster Care Alumni of America.  I, as a former foster youth myself,  found it so true that I just had to share it with you. I thank Mr. Stanton for sharing his insights.

It seems like we can’t pick up the newspaper or turn on the television these days without reading or hearing about a child who has been abused, neglected or even killed by their parents. Other stories also range from a child welfare agency losing a child in the system to children being kept in cages and starved.

Many of these youth will end up in our nation’s foster care system. Some will eventually be reunified with their family, adopted or will remain in foster care for years to come. Some will experience even more aduse, neglect or other things.

Do people ever think about what happens to these children? Where will that child be five years, 10 years, 20 years from now after years of experiencing all sorts of traumatizing events during their youth?

Surprisingly, I find that most people really don’t give this a whole lot of thought except maybe for a day or two when cases hit the headlines. Abuse of children by their parents or the system is not something that we want to believe happens every second in America. We are shocked when it is reported, but most often we want to forget about it and move on with our lives.

Today, there are more than 12 million adults in America who “graduated” from the foster care system. We hardly hear about these individuals. A high percentage of youth leave foster care with many troubles and end up homeless for a time, in mental-health hospitals or in prison. However some former foster children move on in life overcoming the damage of their youth becoming successful and have families.

So why don’t we hear about the successes? Is it because those foster children, now adults, were programmed not to talk about their experiences in foster care?

Go back in time to the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, and think about how families were structured. What happened in the family was supposed to stay in the family. When things got so bad that a child was removed from the home, it was a thing of shame. It was a stigma.

As a child, I certainly didn’t want to tell anyone you were a foster child. I can recall this first hand. Growing up in foster care in the 1950s and ’60s, I didn’t dare tell anyone I was a foster child. If anyone found out, I was ostracized. Parents wouldn’t allow their children to play with me because I was “the foster kid.”

Teachers often reacted in one of two ways. They would either immediately label me as the “bad” kid or they would pity me or not challenge me. Either way, I was an outsider.

So it is no wonder that you don’t hear about foster children who have grown up, have families and are successful. Even as adults, many of us continue to observe the rules of the past and remain silient and voiceless.

This is a travesty. We – who have been there, done that – can offer so much to the children who are now in foster care and expose the broken system that was responsible for us.

Today’s foster children are often still labeled, and most don’t dare let people know they are a foster child.

I for one have decided that I will remain silent no more….I will not be voiceless and forgotten. I do this not for my sake as I have been able to move on with my life and been successful. I however care about the youth in the system today still dealing with many of the same issues I did all those years ago.

Six years ago at the age of 51, I received a call that my biological mother passed away. She had given me up me a second time 3 years earlier after a 12 year strained reunion. My first emotion was not grief. My first thought was, “Wow, I guess I really am never going home,” and because of this, my first emotion was sadness.

Think about the benefit foster children could have if we “alumni” of foster care stepped forward and spent a little time with abused and neglected children. Think of the impact we could have if we were the people they look up to because we lived through what they are living through.

Maybe it is time to stop thinking of ourselves as “former foster kids” but rather as “foster alumni.” We really have so much to offer and should take pride in what we survived. We need to give this generation of foster children the hope that so many of us didn’t have.

We need to also speak out to the general public of what a foster care experience can really be like. There are yes good expertiences but unfortunately there are numerous bad experiences as well especially for those who spend year after year within the system and end up aging out without the tools necessary to make it on their own.

There are so many organizations that are looking for volunteers to reach out to foster children. Organizations such as Foster Care Alumni of America http://www.fostercarealumni.org/ is such a national organization. Many communities also have orgranizations as well.

Through our experience as foster care alumni, we have paved a path to success. Now, let’s guide the next generation of foster youth down that path so that they can set the example for future generations.

So, next time you hear the question: What happens to foster children when they grow up?, stand tall, speak out and let people know that some of the leaders in our community are foster care alumni.