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.


11 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for posting on my blog! I’m glad that you, too, are a member of FCAA.

    Have you joined the Foster Care Alumni of America FaceBook group? It’s proving to be a great means for us to keep up the conversation as foster care alumni…. You are so articulate that I feel that it is important that your voice be heard.

    Also, it is very interesting to hear from other alumni from all over the world — the similarity of our experiences, the diversity of our insights, etc.

    Send me an email sometime, and I will give you more information. (There’s a link to email me from my blog).


  2. Another member of FCAA is David Louis. He is in the process of starting a chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America in Hawaii.

    You might enjoy his book: Scars That can Heal. It’s available on amazon.com

    He does a great job of balancing sharing his personal experiences with making recommendations for reformation in child welfare policy and practice.

  3. I like the term you used ‘Graduated’

    I think its the one graduation where you don’t really get much, you know the sort that comes right after you graduate kindergarten and become a first grader!

    I was a Foster kid.

    I’m proud to be a Foster Alumni.

    Just sometimes wish there were more things to be proud about the foster care system.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I too spent time in the foster care system. I was in care for the ten years from age 8 to 18. Unfortunately, the stigma you wrote of has continued right up to the present day. I had a woman tell her children I “must” have done something bad to be a teenager who was still in foster care because otherwise I would have been adopted long before I got that old. This was someone who had known me to about three years at the time because I worked with her and she had seen nothing but punctuality, good work ethic and a positive attitude from me. Other youth in care and recent alumni of care have told me similar and worse stories. I think we have a lot of work to do on the general public’s perception of us. It is not our fault they have the beliefs they have, but our younger brothers and sisters in care are feeling the consequences of their ignorance.

  5. I’m so hoping that my kids are successful. Right now they are struggling so badly. I tell them that this will make them stronger, but really, how much can one take in one’s life before they crack? I’m mom to four kids who either have or soon will age out of fc. I would have adopted all of them. I WILL adopt all of them (when my youngest is 18, so she doesn’t feel left out).

    I am third generation fc. My grandma and mom were children in fc. Grandma aged out. She carried the scars her entire life. Those scars were passed down to my mom, who also passed them down to me. Neither of them grew up to know how to be a parent. I see that same trend in my oldest (f)daughter. I’m teaching her the best I can, but her scars are deep also.

    I wish ALL alumni would speak up and change this system. It’s so broken and we fp’s can’t change it until we’re out of it. If we voice our concerns, we are blackballed and our kids are removed from our home. We MUST join together to be heard and LISTENED to! If not, the little ones who continue to be sentenced to life in fc will continue to suffer!

    I am so grateful to Larry for sharing your story with all of us. It’s so important that your experience is out there. Sadly, not much has changed in all these years. Your experiences were my grandmother’s experiences, which are my children’s experiences 😦

  6. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  7. hi, my name is jeanette padget, i am 14 years old and currently a foster child in washington state. i am now in relative care, but for four months of state care i was mentally, verbally, and sexually abused. in my second foster home, which i ran away from, i got raped. i told, but all that happened was that i got called a “godd*** liar”. in my first, i was accused of being a thief, and i have never stolen in my entire life and i never will. every morning i got woken up by someone yelling, “JEANETTE, GET YOUR FAT A** UP!”. i’m not sure exactly what i couldv’e done to deserve all this, but i had an even more traumatic experience in foster care than i did at home. i don’t know if anyone will reply to this or even read it for that matter. but my mission is to make sure no foster kids go through the experiences that i endured only a couple months ago. at least by sending this email i know i’m trying to do something about it. somehow i’d like to start a protest against the foster care system for the injustice kids like myself recieve. is there anything you can do to help?

    • i’m replying to jeanette padget, i know her personally , she probably doesn’t know that i’m responding to her. i have known her for months and hearing this makes me feel horrible.

      • jeanette, you don’t deserve the treatment you have recieved. well i know you as squishy and you are absolutely amazing and i know the treatment you gotten is not okay and that no one deserves it.

  8. Often, in life we must make choices. Breakfast: cereal or cold pizza. As a former foster child and orphan I’ve had to make a choice to be successful. I only am successful because people grabbed my hand and pulled me up, believed in me, and dedicated the time to tell me “You can be great”, and this is what ALL foster children and alumni need; the faith in them, the person who will take time to listen and not critisize or judge; the people who will put out their hand and say “Let’s look at your options.” Let’s face it, life is tough enough without being a foster child but what we as former foster children must do is give back and ask for help from one another if we get down. We must stand and fight for those who have no voice and change the system for the better. It’s not a choice but an obligation. I’m a member of FCAA and someone who will eventually work in a medical home as a doctor serving the foster care population as well as being a rural physician. There is hope in the sadness and there is light in the tunnel.

    I leave you with some cardinal rules for Foster Parents and mentors ( Excuse if they are funny, I made ’em up):

    Leave no child feeling alone;
    Always believe in that child;
    Don’t judge the child by his/her past;
    Most importantly: Be a positive role model and help those children believe they belong and that they too can, and will, become outstanding in life;

  9. Sometimes I question my purpose in life. Was I suppose to go through so much? How am I suppose to be successful when the word success is unknown to me. The number of aged-out youth becoming homeless is growing. I am one of them. I had nowhere to go when I turned 19. Someone even suggested that I return home to by drug and alcohol addicted mother. The place where it all began. I can say that I achieved so much more than what others thought I would not. I graduated from high school with a 4.0. And now I go to community college where I am struggling to keep my 3.0. Its hard. I know there are far more worst situation then mine. How can I be so selfish when we our on the verge of economic failure and world hunger. But I can’t and will not disregard those who are just like me. We need help, but no help can be found. I was told that when you feel the most destroyed, you are about to grow. I hope I grow soon!

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