Don't ignore
the past

Ben entered foster care at only six months old. He was in and out until adopted as a teenager. In this blog, he talks about how kids in care crave love regardless of how that looks outwardly. 

 
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I was too young to remember exactly when I entered care – no more than six months old.

From there, I was back and forth between my biological mother and the system. The third time around, my mother’s parental rights were terminated and the fourth time I was supposed to be adopted by my Godmother but she couldn’t keep me. My mother chose drugs over her kids, was abusive, dated abusive men, and eventually chose a man over all of us and dropped us off for the final time at DSS. The last time was the worst. When I got out of foster care, my Godmother decided she wanted to take me in but it only lasted a month before she could not handle me anymore. She was never home and I was only seen as a problem. She called my social worker and put me back in foster care again until my brother and I were adopted as teenagers.  At that point, I had lived in 23 homes. I was afraid, defensive, aggressive, and lonely. I felt abandoned by my own family.

I now realize that the system wanted what was best for me despite what I felt they wanted when I was immersed in it. I definitely think that deeper investigations need to be done on people who want to foster to ensure that it is for the right reasons.

Kids in care just want love, but because of what we have gone through, it sometimes comes out in ugly ways. I would encourage foster parents or those that want to foster to love your foster children with your whole heart and do not ignore their past because it will only stall their healing. Not all foster children are broken beyond repair – give them a chance!

When I decided to stop fighting the system and start working with it through volunteering with nonprofit organizations such as Mercy For America’s Children, I found a bright future and so many blessings to look up to. My greatest blessing is finding Jesus in the ruins of my past. He has rewritten my story and I look forward to the day when I can share what He has done with others.

As soon as I turn 21, I plan to start fostering. I pray that my story brings light to those who are looking for a sign from God to give to others. I also hope it sheds light to kids in the system that a brighter day is coming and that all they have to do is keep fighting. I want to thank the Archibald Project for giving me a platform to share my story publicly!

– Ben, Former Foster Youth

 

Stronger, Wiser, and a Little More Resilient

Sara entered the foster system the second she was born. From there she was in and out, put through terrible situations at home again and again. Read about her story and be inspired by her strength and resilience! 

 
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One minute old and I was already in the system…

My mother was high on drugs when she delivered me and I was taken from there. From that point on, I was in and out of the system. The first time I actually remember being taken was the time a SWAT team did a drug bust on our home. We were pulling into the driveway and a SWAT truck was parked on the curb. They were yelling and telling my mother and her boyfriend to get on the ground. They took me, my brother and sister and put us in a group home. From there my childhood timeline is kind of a mess. I don’t remember what age I was at which house, what schools I went to, what friends I had, I honestly don’t remember much from that time until I was 12. Little pieces here and there but for the most part… it’s all a blur. That can be really tough, especially getting older and trying to find your identity... honestly, it's still a struggle.

My brother, sister, and I went back and forth from my mother to different homes. We were eventually all separated and spent the majority of our time in the system away from each other. It was extremely hard to be away from them and not know if they were okay. The homes I was placed in were okay but the group homes were definitely the hardest for me. There were a lot of older kids who weren’t always nice. I had one family placement when I was around nine or ten and they are amazing… I’m still in contact with them today! 

The whole thing was scary. As much as the families try to make you feel welcome and want it to be easy for you, you’re a child going into new homes with new strangers. You cannot comprehend what’s going on, why this is going on. You go to a new bedroom that isn’t your own in a home that isn’t your own. It seemed to be that bedtime was always the hardest.

I have mixed feeling about the system. It’s hard to say anything negative because my story turned out okay… but it also amazes me how many chances they gave my mother. It was back and forth, back and forth. I understand that their goal is to bring families back together but sometimes that isn’t realistic. I had one family that wanted to adopt me, and my aunt also wanted to adopt us but my mother refused. Why she had that right after choosing to let us get taken multiple times in the first place doesn’t seem fair. So I was never adopted. When I was 12, I was living with my mother, brother and sister in an apartment. After school one day she said something like, “I have to work over the Thanksgiving holiday so you’re going up to your aunt’s house for thanksgiving.” My “aunt” was a friend of my mom’s from childhood, who knew me when I was a baby but hadn’t seen me in years. She had no idea where we were or that we had been in and out of foster care, she said it was like we had fallen off of the face of the earth. Somehow my mother managed to get in contact with her and asked if we could come up for the holidays so we went for Thanksgiving... and then the holidays came and passed.

Eventually a social worker showed up and explained that my

mother was back in jail and that we would need to be put back intofoster care. My aunt was young and uncle were young and also had young children at home but they refused to let us go. They ended up getting their license to foster and eventually ended up gaining guardianship of us. My brother and I lived with her until we were adults and moved out. My sister left (by choice) shortly after we got there.

As a child, I was so thankful to finally have a home. One that was mine. One that I never had to leave. I remember my aunt telling me, “you’re mine and you’re not going anywhere.” I finally got to enjoy childhood. I love and appreciate everything she and my uncle did for me but never really comprehend the magnitude of what they did until I was older and had children of my own. I will never be able to repay them. It is because of them that I am who I am today, it’s because of them that my story turned out okay. I owe so much to them and yet they never ask for anything in return.

I used to hear, “wow you grew up in foster care? But you’re so normal” and, “I would have never guessed you grew up in foster care because you turned out so good for growing up in the system.” It used to annoy me, I used to get defensive about it but I don’t anymore. Now I’m like, “yep, I sure did.” And I’m proud of it. It’s hard growing up, being shuffled from home to home, not having a mother or a father who love you or want you. Being abused from the one man who was supposed to protect you and having a mother who continually chose men and drugs over her children is hard to wrap your mind around. You have no idea what that does to a child but I try not to wallow in it. Instead, I look at all the blessings I had throughout my journey. I can see God’s hand in all of it: from an amazing foster family who showed me what a family looks like, the friends that took me to church and youth group, my Aunt and Uncle who said enough is enough, took us in and treated us as their own, my amazing husband who loves me unconditionally and is the best father to our kids, the amazing family I married into, and my two beautiful healthy babies.

The struggles and experiences made me stronger, wiser, and a little more resilient. I have been able to share my story and relate to so many people… and for that, it all seems worth it.  I will probably always have my little struggles here and there but I wouldn’t change my journey. I am proud to be able to look in the mirror and say, “I love the woman I am today, because I fought to become her.”

For those considering foster care, go for it. If it is on your heart and you genuinely want to help children, do it. Nothing you ever do for a child, big or small, is wasted. And for those who don’t want to, that’s okay, too. It’s not easy and you have to have the strength and the heart for it. Just helping in your everyday life is good enough. I remember some Christmases I was the kid receiving the present that stranger’s bought. I was the name on a card that someone pulled off of a tree, so I do that now with my family. There’s are so many ways to help besides being a foster parent. 

– Sara, Former Foster Child

 

There's an Orphan Crisis in Your Backyard

Lindsay and her husband never planned to become foster parents. It was through loss and the desire to help others that it all started and their story is an inspirational one!

 
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My name is Lindsay and I am a foster mom.

My husband and I’s journey to foster care was one born from brokenness. We had grand plans to move overseas for ministry after my husband finished his master's degree, however, eight months into our first year of marriage, my mother passed away unexpectedly. After her loss, our plans turned upside down and we began thinking of ways we could stay in the U.S. yet still pursue ways to live with a missional mindset. We began hearing more and more about the foster care system, and as we to read more about it, we felt as though we couldn't know what we knew without moving forward with becoming licensed to foster. Before we even received our paper license in the mail, we got a call to take an eight-week-old baby boy. The feelings that wash over us when we get calls from our agency are always conflicting and completely unique in nature: excited, surprised, grieved, reluctant, thankful, afraid, and overwhelmed among other things. This first call we received was for our sweet little boy who has a story that maybe he'll one day choose and be able to tell for himself, but he has since become our three-year-old adoptive son, Martell. When Martell was ten months old, we accepted the placement of a four-year-old girl who had a laundry list of abuse and severe trauma-related behavior. She remained in our home for ten months. We are currently hosting a darling little rambunctious and wild little two-year-old alongside our son Martell (three) and our biological daughter Esmae (one). Life is full and lively to say the least. 

If I'm honest, before witnessing a distant friend of mine begin taking in children through foster care, I really did not know a thing about it. As we began reading articles and books surrounding the issue, we became burdened for these children who are often unseen, in between, and vulnerable, and we felt as though we wanted our home and our arms to be a safe refuge for them. We definitely feared becoming attached to these kids only to have our hearts broken when we sent them home, but on the flip side, we also feared having children in our home that we would have no idea how to love. As "trained" as we were, we were pretty naive to what it

would actually be like and I think most foster parents are or will beuntil they're in the trenches. It's not glamorous work, loving hard in the hard, but it's good and necessary and refining and right.

We have learned so much through the process of parenting children who aren’t ours biologically. It has taught us that, while it's easier to live in our fenced in "palace of privilege,” it's always worth it to take down the proverbial fence and open our doors to children who need it. It shakes up our perspective and surfaces our weakness in a beautiful way. We can truly be the biggest fans of the struggling, sometimes single, parents; and see that their sin is no different from ours – it just comes in a different form. I have grown much in compassion and empathy and learned that judgment is only a barrier to love. Foster care is no walk in the park; it's not as though we get to use a few of our best parenting tactics and change a kid's life. It's messy and painful and sometimes overwhelming. The learning curve is steep and somehow these little kids have a way of turning our hearts inside out. But it's there, at the edges of ourselves that we need people and we need community and we need our neighbors. Needing one another is the bridge to authentic relationship – with friends, strangers, family, and Jesus. Foster care is a beautiful mess, a paradox of deep love and total discomfort. Foster care has been one of the most demanding and refining experiences of our lives… one we would never trade.

There is an orphan crisis right in your backyard and the time to step in and love some of the world’s most vulnerable is now. You may fear the pain that you will experience through parenting broken kids (and that fear is real and that pain is real), but you have the opportunity to carry a small portion of their pain for a little while so they don't have to. I truly do believe that there is no greater gift. All kids deserve a place of security, belonging, safety and unconditional love. 

– Lindsay Walder, Urbana, Illinois
hopeunswerving.com
@lindsay.walder

 

 

I Am the Woman
I Am

Carlina Shotwell has done so much in her life despite the label of being a "former foster youth." Read her story below! 

 

My name is Carlina Shotwell and I entered foster care on June 29th, 2001 at the age of nine years old.

Prior to being placed in foster care, my family and I were living in a homeless shelter because my mother could not provide stability and financial support for her five children.

As a child in the foster system, I was beyond scared and concerned for my other siblings. We went many years without seeing or speaking to each other but I knew this was no fault of our own – it was a choice each of our foster parents made. Throughout my time in foster care, I lived in a total of eight foster homes within North Carolina. Unfortunately, I did not have the greatest experiences in those homes. Many of my foster parents made it very clear I was only there for their personal benefits. I had one particular foster parent who stated I was her “car payment.”

As a child, these experiences hurt me to the core… but I am a stronger person now because of it.

My main thought when entering a new foster home was, “How long will this one last?” I always had thoughts in my head that the particular parent had two weeks to prove to me I was worth it. Unfortunately, a mixture of their lack of concern and my acting out always took a turn for the worst. As I grew up, the appearance of my family slowly diminished. My first foster parents were involved in family visits at the beginning, but after a while they stopped. The foster parents that followed never even mentioned an opportunity of family visits.

 I was never adopted by any of my foster parents. In North Carolina we have something known as the CARS agreement. The CARS agreement is what you sign on your 18th birthday if you would like to stay in foster care. The agreement can be broken at any time from 18-21 years old. I decided to sign this agreement, because I was a senior in high school at the age of 18 years old and wanted to finish. I broke the agreement once I completed high school to move into my own apartment with the help of Pitt County Department of Social Services LINKS program. 

I have endured many obstacles while in foster care, but I have always kept my hope of a loving and caring home. Currently, I am an adult and I have realized that many of my homes were better than others. I am forever grateful and thankful to each parent for offering me a chance of a loving and caring home. I am the woman I

am today because of each and every one of my foster parents and I am truly proud of my hard work and dedication. I have spent many years reaching out to foster youth and giving them the hope to continue on past foster care and reach for their dreams just as I did. I earned my Paralegal Technology degree from Pitt Community College in 2013 and my Criminal Justice Technology degree in 2015. My ultimate goal is Law School and I am almost there! I am currently in my senior year at North Carolina Central University where I am furthering my studies in Criminal Justice Juvenile Justice. Dreams really can become a reality!

I live to tell my story ­– to shed light on the system as well as how the system affected me and still affects me. Foster care was not created as a bad thing, and I understand that completely. Nevertheless, the system has a way of allowing a couple of bad seeds to slip through the cracks just to secure a home. Thankfully, I have the opportunity to work with a great organization SAYSO (Strong and Able Youth Speaking Out) that implements changes in the foster care system within North Carolina. I have also submitted my application to become a foster parent of my own and starting classes this September!

I would like people to understand that foster care was not created as a bad thing, but to provide what the biological parents lacked. It is an opportunity to help mold a child into a great human being and not a form of income.

I would strongly suggest to people who are considering becoming a foster family to always have patience with the foster child and show him/ her you care. That being said, being a foster parent is not for everyone, just like being a parent is not for everyone but there are plenty of other ways to get involved!

I am currently a published author, public speaker, and foster care advocate. I have written my first children book titled, “Journey: A tale of a foster youth’s journey home.” In this young male’s journey he is faced with obstacles that only a foster youth would fully understand. This tale applies true meaning to the longing for a loving and caring home. No one longs for this more than a foster youth and this I am sure of. My book is available on Amazon, Kindle, and my website www.carlinashotwell.com. I wrote this fictional tale to help current and future youth. My goal for my book is to bring a more positive light on foster care and establish the need of more caring and loving homes.

– Carlina, Former Foster Youth
www.carlinashotwell.com

What about us?

Read the powerful experience of a foster youth going through unimaginable things and taking care of her two younger sisters along the way. Be inspired by how she overcame every odd against her and hear her cry for future foster families!

 

My name is Ashley and I entered foster care at the age of 15 with my two and 13-year-old sisters.

About two years before we entered foster care my uncle had been released from prison. He moved in with us and there ended up being quite a few interesting people hanging around our house. Although I didn’t know it at the time, all of these people and my parents got involved in a huge fraud ring. Along with the criminal behavior, there was a lot of drugs around the house and general neglect of both my sisters and myself. My mother was eventually arrested for trying to cash a fake check and, next thing we know, she was gone from our home. More police visits occurred and my dad was later arrested for child endangerment while my sisters and I were taken into custody.

During our time in foster care, my sisters and I were never separated but that did mean we required an emergency placement at first. The mother of the house only spoke Spanish and we had nothing but the clothes on our backs when we pulled up to the house – no pajamas, no toothbrush, nothing. We weren’t allowed to use the phone or computer so we had no contact with anyone. The next day, my great-aunt and her husband were cleared to get custody of us. This meant moving yet again, still without having changed our clothes or getting toothbrushes.

While I am extremely grateful that we got to live with my aunt and keep going to school as normal, it was really hard. It was strange to be in the same town that I grew up in and not know where my parents were or what they were doing or if they were even okay. I wondered if they were worried about us as well. Every time a social worker came to visit us, all they wanted to discuss were my parent’s crimes and abuse towards us; it felt like we had to live through trauma over and over again. My schedule was wake up around 5:00am to get my youngest sister ready for the day, get her dressed, fed, and put on cartoons for her while I got ready for school. She asked for my mom A LOT, and I just told her not to worry because I was taking care of her. After school she would sit with me and color while I was doing homework. Once I was done with my homework, I would usually spend an hour or so practicing letters or something else with her to make sure she was getting enough attention and learning the things she needed to at that age. I have a drawing she made for me during this time of me sitting in front of a white board and of her at a desk. This was from when I would teach her the alphabet, phonetics, and how to write her name. I keep that drawing hung in my office at home as a reminder of that time I had with her.  I keep that drawing hung in my office at home as a reminder of that time I had with her. Along with those roles, I also often cooked dinner and did all of our laundry. My other sister was responsible for bathing her, brushing her hair, and braiding it every night. It was weird because, even though there were adults all around us, we still took on the roles of taking care of our youngest sister. I felt such an immense responsibility to shelter my sisters from everything that was happening. Everything was unknown during this time – expectations were unknown, how we should behave was unknown, whether we were going to be bathed, fed, given clothes, etc. it all felt so foreign and unknown.  

The whole experience was really heart wrenching for me but I don’t think I let myself fully experience my emotions. Everyone around me was telling me that this was a good thing, that my parents needed this to get better, and that I should do whatever I could do to support them. Even now, I just think – well what about me? What about my emotions? What about when I had to comfort and soothe my baby sister as she whimpered in her sleep, calling out for a

mother that wasn’t there? Nobody seemed concerned about us and I just hate how overlooked we were in all of it. Even though we ended up being placed with family, nobody seemed empatheticof our emotions or what we might be going through. Learning, as a teen, that your parents have been drug addicts and criminals for the larger portion of your life is a shock in and of itself but then throw in all the unknowns, school, peer relationships, and thinking about college – it was rough. I was wrecked because I had nobody to comfort me, and yet I managed to thrive on the outside. I shoved all of my negative emotions and my desire for comfort deep inside of me and instead poured all of my energy into caring for my sisters and excelling in school.

Having gone through the system and out of it now, I realize how broken it is. It always seemed like my sisters and I were afterthoughts. It was as if all that mattered was getting us a bed to sleep in that night, but not a single other need was met throughout the process. In my situation, there was so much focus on my parents and their recovery that nobody paused to think about our trauma. And what about children that are constantly moved around in the system? Every single move is traumatizing, every single move creates situations of uncertainty and fear for children. I only experienced living in a new home twice and it was so unbelievably hard. The issues are systemic – I wish there was a better solution and I encourage every healthy family that I know to consider being foster parents, because that is one way I know of to help heal the system. If we can increase the number of healthy families and resources for these kids, then they have a better shot at success in life. Dealing with the systemic issues, such as the low bar that is required for someone to become a foster parent, underfunded programs, and over-worked social workers will take time… but any healthy, loving person can become a foster parent and change a life.

If I could give advice to people reading this it would be to stop thinking that being a foster parents would be “too hard” for them. What about these kids? Don’t you think it is a lot harder for them? Not helping them perpetuates cycles of poverty and other big issues. I wore my label of being a foster kid like it was some kind of dirty thing about me and I don’t want kids to feel that way. There is so much wealth and love in the world and I think people need to step out of their comfort zone and stop being afraid to get hurt. Instead, consider fostering or becoming a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and change a child’s life! Fears are the same whether you want to foster or would never consider it – losing a child that you poured so much love into. For the people who would never consider foster, choosing not to help could result in a kid out there who will never experience that healthy relationship and that love of a family. The rewards that exist for children in the foster care system far outweigh the risk being placed on the families that do not want to do it.

 In spite of my label as a former foster youth that aged out, I will be graduating with a Master’s Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology this weekend! In the future, I plan to definitely become a foster parent; I have never had any intentions of having my own children because there are just too many children in this world not receiving proper parenting, comfort, or love. I am in therapy now trying to work on myself and make sure that I can be the best parent possible so that my husband and I can be fully present for foster kids.  

 Thanks so much for reading my story,
– Ashley, Former Foster Youth

Above Photos by  Sarah Sotro, www.sarahsotro.com

Fitting the
Foster Puzzle

"My experience in foster care was like trying to figure out a giant puzzle. When I would come into a new home they already had their routines. When their doors opened to me, I was expected to fit in that puzzle almost immediately." 

 

My name is Alexis and I was removed from my mother’s care when I was 13 years old.

In the span of a year and a half, I was passed around to about 4 different homes. You see, my mother struggled with addiction. This, in turn, affected her ability to provide for the family and provide a safe environment for us children. 

We were dirt poor – the type of poor that involved eviction, an empty fridge and cupboards, tattered clothing, and water or electricity cuts. We were raising ourselves and each other, making decisions that were not meant for children to make, like deciding when and if we would go to school… which ultimately led to me failing 7th grade. 

Caseworkers would try to surprise-visit us, but we knew the routine and were great at fooling them. All mom had to say was, “CPS is coming,” and I, being the anxiety filled child I was, would get on my hands and knees and scrub the floors. It finally got to the point of removal when, at a party, some poor choices were made by the party goers that had my poor little brother in hysterics. He called on the family to intervene and this began our foster journey. 

My experience in foster care was like trying to figure out a giant puzzle. When I would come into a new home they already had their routines. Their days ran smoothly and everything seemed to fit together perfectly. It seemed like when their doors opened to me, I was expected to fit in that puzzle almost immediately. They would start trying to “fix me” rather than guide me, trying to find the best way to fit me into their puzzle. Sometimes I would rebel, sometimes I would adhere, but sometimes I wouldn’t adhere fast enough and I’d be on to the next one. While I was lucky enough to stay with family members, there was still a sense of moving in with a stranger. It was different with each placement, but I did feel a common theme amongst each home that I was a burden. While I would say that I was a relatively normal teenager, every little thing I did wrong made me feel like “this could be it.” It could be the time that I did something just wrong enough that I would get sent away. It was worrisome, but also created this INTENSE desire to fit in. To find any way possible to please others, sacrificing a little bit of who I was in order to do what others expected. While this was beneficial to me in some ways, (like helping me be rid of some undesirable behaviors) it also created a lot of anxiety and insecurity.

It wasn’t always difficult though. I began to live a life I had only seen on television sitcoms like The Brady Bunch. I learned how to care for myself by brushing my teeth, showering, and wearing clean clothes that actually fit. I learned how to speak to adults, use my manners, try new foods, and sit down to a good home cooked meal with a family. It was like a whole new world to me that I enjoyed. 

Finally I was placed with an Aunt and Uncle who eventually adopted me. They basically took the crumbling foundation that was my childhood and rebuilt it from my core, introducing me to the strongest foundation, their faith. Through my faith I found a purpose for my heartache and the circumstances that I was forced to endure.

Being removed from my mom was hard. The life I was living with my mother may not have been the best, or safest, but it was what I knew. Having to fend for ourselves, I naturally became the mother figure. I helped take care of my younger siblings as best as a girl my age could. I lied, cheated, stole, and hustled to do what I had to do to protect them. I stuck by my baby sisters even when the system wanted to separate us, and my little brother found an amazing home with my aunt and uncle (where we all eventually joined him).

There are a few stereotypes that I came to know during my time in foster care. 

First, there was a term that hovered over my head the entire time I was in care and shaped my identity: ward of the state. (I didn’t know the term “foster child”). I just wanted to be known as and actually be a regular teenager. I wanted to like boys, wear shell toe Adidas, and listen to the Backstreet Boys. But because of this title, a certain stereotype followed me wherever I went. Sometimes when people knew my story, they would look at me differently. They would look at me with so much pity that sometimes, being the master manipulator that I was, I would take advantage to get attention or get what I wanted. And sometimes it would lower my own expectations of how I should portray myself, like, “You think I’m some ghetto girl from Flint? Well let me show you ghetto.”…

 

Second, the idea that, because I was a foster child, a little less was expected of me. Sometimes I felt like people stood by just waiting for me to fail or expected me to do just enough to get by… not excel, not over achieve, but just get by. Sometimes I used this to my advantage by slacking, while other times it would just piss me off. I wanted people to understand that I was my own person. Yes, I was so and so’s relative but that did not mean I would follow the same path. I made my own choices, I created my own destiny. I believed it didn’t matter where I came from, and with a lot of hard work anything was possible.

Last, the idea that all mothers and fathers lose their children because they don’t love them. This is a difficult one to swallow as both an alum and foster mother. Fast forward to present day where I am married and we have been foster parents to 10 children under the age of 5. Initially it was my belief that my mother didn’t love me enough, but as an adult and now foster mother, I know that she did and still does truly love me. When I try to explain my family to my children and my children's parent's situations to my foster children, I try to explain it the best way possible – without judgement. I try to understand that my mom, and often times my children’s mothers are sick. Addiction is an illness and is often times coupled with mental illness. People make mistakes, things cloud their judgment. Any other person, including myself, can't know better unless you walk in their shoes and I want our country to know this. 

To anyone interested in getting involved in foster care, first I would say, become a foster parent! If I can do it, anyone can do it! There are also other ways to help children in need. Volunteer or donate to local organizations that advocate for foster children and collect duffle bags or other basic needs for those entering foster care. Find a foster family and ask if they need anything such as meals, donations, help with laundry, anything! Volunteer at a local shelter. We have The Arc which is an emergency shelter for children in between foster homes. Or if you feel called to serve but not as a foster family, there is always respite care! 

I want the world to know that life was not easy for me and it’s not easy for any foster child. I wasn’t born with advantages, and unfortunately didn’t have the ability to choose what was happening around me. As I got older, I decided to take a negative and turn it into a positive. I decided to show the naysayers that I could do better – that I would take all the negative influences and use them as an example of what not to do. I vowed to take school more seriously, to stop the lying and manipulating that helped me survive for so long, and focus on building healthy relationships. I decided to let go of the hate and betrayal that was all-consuming. I decided to love… this was probably the hardest of them all. I dreamed I would find a man who would see my past as a beautiful thing and accept all of me, flaws included. I got that and more! I decided to live a life that would serve others and do something I loved, and with a lot of hard work I will receive my Masters in Elementary Education in a week!

Living with strangers is not easy; even living with extended family is hard. But through all of the moving, each person gave me a piece of themselves, which in turn helped mold me into me: a woman with a very eclectic personality who wears her heart on her sleeve. 

I’m not doing this to boast because I am FAR from perfect BUT I want to show you that foster care, or a parent’s mistakes, do not predestine you for failure. They do not determine how you will turn out, they do not make you. No matter what you have been through, success is possible with hard work. When I was younger I would describe myself as an outsider, someone who didn’t fit in the lifestyle I was raised in. I believed that I was made to do something, I called it Simon Birch syndrome (if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s amazing. lol) While my brothers were out doing God knows what in the streets, I was babysitting to raise money to get things for me and my sister. While every decision I made as a child wasn’t always best, I did what I could to survive. I am living a dream life I never imagined for myself. I have the most amazing family. My siblings are my best friends. I have traveled the world, gotten two degrees, married the most amazing man, and I continue to be blessed daily with the love of my foster babies. It’s a total "pulled up from my boot straps," American dream kind of story. I’m not quite sure why I am so lucky, but I know that after years of heartache I’m finally happy.

– Alexis, Former Foster Youth