Life is a lot harder when you have to grow up without loving and supportive caregivers. Lacking a stable home environment and financial resources, these people navigated the foster care system to the best of their abilities.
They share their foster care stories with us below.
1. I was in foster care, but was never adopted. I was taken away from my biological family at a young age, and from then on I only met them by appointment on a weekly basis for about an hour under supervision. I went from home to home being told directly that "you are only here because you make us money" and "if you were my real son, you'd be treated differently." When I would misbehave, my foster parents would threaten to "call the agency" and return me like some sort of defective product.
During the summer time, I was sent to camp so they can "get a break from me" and spend alone time with their biological children. It took a mental toll on me and I lived in constant fear. The people I was surrounded with in my foster homes made be believe that anybody that interacted with me wanted to use me and that led me to withdraw from everybody and isolate myself to be on the safe side. I really only felt at "home" when I was in school.
Things are better now, I am working on my PhD and I'm trying my very best to build healthy relationships with people, but it is extremely hard to open up when I've been hurt so much. When I see stray cats on the street that don't trust me to feed them, I feel I have a deeper understanding of why they act the way they do. My walk of life has taught me that all things are transient, but the best feeling that I've ever felt is love. If you have any children, give them a big hug and tell them you love them, it means more than you would ever know.
2. I was in foster care with relatives after my mother died but was never in the system per se. They kicked me out at 18 but I was eligible for a lot of benefits due to being a ward of the state in my teen years. My aunt and uncle never officially adopted me.
I struggled through college but I did end up graduating and have a solid job, a home and I'm getting married in less than 3 months.
3. Both my parents committed suicide, My mother when I was 5, which put me in foster care, and my father later in life, when I was already a big part of the system.
My sister and I bounced around alot, my sister a lot more than I did - I ended up at 13 different homes, (Some I would go back to) she ended up in a lot more. We were both very difficult and would test the foster families after the honeymoon period ended - and eventually it wouldn't work out and we would move on - the longest I stayed in one place was 3 years.
After some physical and sexual abuse at a family, and a general disregard for my future - I was caught shop lifting and given community service. Sent to a charity, and became a pretty big part of their fundraising (It was a super marketable story really) - got sexually abused by the founder - but carried on with life.
Eventually got married, and had 2 kids - it didn't work out (after 10 years) - but I'm still doing my hobby from when I left school and work as a Systems Administrator.
Life isn't bad - A lot of things I wish I did better - I struggle with a bit of baggage. - I'm not sure how much of that is perceived and how much is real, but I'm doing much better than my sister - and I'm a relatively functional member of society. Which is much better than I would have been.
Continue reading on the next page!
4. I was effectively raised in a big facility for kids they didn't have room for/kids too damaged by abuse/the system to be out and about.
These days I'm mostly upset about what it did to the continuity of my education.
My past ruined my future. And the only girl I've ever loved doesn't want me, because I'm a mess, and it just kinda kills me every day to know I'm so disposable. An auxiliary person. I think because I've never had a stable family or been accepted anywhere I put a lot more value in human relationships than other people? And time after time I've learned I'm not worth it to the rest of the world.
It's weird because I've always been reasonably intelligent, and done well in school- so all the things most people really value have come easy to me. I'm working on grad school/will get a doctorate. I play the bass guitar. I've traveled a bit.
But all I ever wanted was to love and be loved, and it just feels... impossible. All I want is something everyone else just seems to have. I still watch everyone go to their parent's houses for Christmas and Thanksgiving and I've got nowhere to go. I've graduated college with no one there to cheer me on. I'm just getting tired of exerting myself when, truthfully, no one really cares.
When I was being hurt growing up I always felt like it was something to rise against. I always knew I could forge a future for myself with education, get a good job, and love someone in a way no one's loved me.
These days, though (at 30)... I just feel like I missed the boat, and I'm tired of the miserable world I live in.
5. I wasn't an orphan in the sense that my parents were dead, but neither were capable of caring for me.
At age 13 I was forcibly removed from my mom's care (she lost physical and legal custody of me and my siblings) and I was placed with family. My grandparents had "temporary custody" of me until my mom was fit to be a parent again; problem was, she never got her act together, so I remained a ward of the state with legal guardians until I graduated high school.
I wish I was put in foster care with strangers. Then, at least, the neglect/abuse/trauma I experienced would be more understandable. The way I see it, it must be easier to treat strangers poorly than your own flesh and blood. If I was living with strangers, I wouldn't have taken it all so personally.
It's been about 13 years since my family was split by the courts, and in this time I managed to graduate from high school and college, have a few relationships (albeit failed ones), I have a kid who is pretty awesome, and 8 years of therapy to show that I've made some positive progress emotionally.
I ultimately hope to work with families who are impacted by addiction and mental health (which is what split my family) to connect them with resources and built emotional/psychiatric resiliency to cope with these problems.
I believe I've stopped the cycle of abuse in my family. I want to help others stop the cycle too.
Continue reading on the next page!
6. I went into foster care when I was 13 and eventually aged out. I was in about 12 homes between the ages of 13-16. It's not easy to place a teenage girl. I'm white and 10 out of my 12 families were black.
My state (I'm not sure if this is something that is done everywhere) had an annual "Foster Child of the Year" award. You get nominated by social workers and foster parents. When I was 16, I was nominated and won. Got to go to a big banquet, met Stedman Graham, was given $1000.
Anyways, after I won that, I was placed with a very nice family who I stayed with until I was 18. Always thought they would adopt me, but they never did. I'm 28 now and I don't talk to any of them anymore.
Now, I own my own business. I'm getting married in 2 weeks. I made my own family out of friends who I celebrate holidays with. Sometimes I feel left out when people are talking about their childhood and the things they did growing up. I've had rough patches, I get lonely. It'd be easy to get bitter. But I know how much life can truly suck, and I'm grateful for everyday it doesn't.
7. Complete emotional wreck, I try to bury any sort of feelings I have as anytime I open up to someone they end up leaving. Couldn't get post secondary education as I had to work full time to pay for rent. I keep trying though, began courses on three separate occasions but just spiral into depression when I'm working a shitty job to pay for school I feel I'm just going to fail at anyway or that it's just a huge mistake. I've lived in almost thirty different places, nowhere has felt home. I seriously feel lost.
8. I was in foster care, but I was never adopted. My first foster parents never legally adopted me, but we call each other family. They never were emotional and I constantly live in fear of being disowned if I don't finish college or maintain a Catholic lifestyle. Both motivating and depressing.
9. So I was never adopted. Grew up in 4 different gov homes and then was going to be kicked out when I turned 18. I was in school and the military was always showing up doing those recruiting booths. I joined the Air Force and have been in 19 years now. Found my own family and really proved the phrase "blood doesn't make family". I have been to 7 continents and over 2 dozen countries. I have to tell you retirement is scarier than those days as a kid....
10. I was taken in by relatives, but never legally adopted. They raised me fine, and the only real issue is that I didn't have insurance between the ages of 18 (when I was dropped from their plan for being an adult) and 24 (when I had to purchase insurance for the ACA). If I was legally theirs, I could stay on their plan for another 2 years.
11. My Mom was in 42 different foster homes, orphanages, etc. Mom never got adopted for 2 reasons: they would not split her and her psychotic violent brother up, and my sociopath of a grandmother would prevent anyone from adopting Mom. If Mom was getting emotionally attached to a foster mother, psycho grandma would find out and have Mom pulled out of the home. ( Mom would tell grandma about 'nice foster mother' during planned visits. Even though Mom and uncle had 2 parents they were still in orphanages and foster homes since their narcissistic mother and playboy father couldn't be bothered with taking care of their own kids. Mom turned out okay. Finally found stability in my Dad, who loved and cared for her until the day he died. Now I take care of her. She's had such a tough life. And her strength shows. She came out of that traumatic childhood sane and able to raise a family.
Continue reading on the next page!
12. Orphan might not be the most accurate term to describe me, as I think one of my biological parents is still alive.
Orphan may be the best term I've got, though, since I haven't interacted with that biological parent in what'll be a decade this February.
My life before foster care was ... not a pleasant one. I lived in a rundown house with my biological mother. I never knew my biological father. This house often didn't have running water, or electricity, or heat. Many summers I would come back from summer camp and find the lights out, and know that it was time to take my gameboy to the library to charge, as not only was it a portable source of entertainment, but it doubled as a light. Some winters I would have to sleep in a sleeping bag with three sweatshirts on in front of an open oven for heat.
This wasn't a happy poverty either. No, my biological mother and I didn't suffer together like they do in the movies, bonding and sharing what little we had, loving each other. No, she was vicious. She beat me daily - grabbing my hair and throwing me on the ground, sitting on top of me so I couldn't escape. She would make me stand in the corner for hours on end on glass. The house was frankly unfit to live in, with cobwebs covering the walls. My biological mother slept on a ... nest of unwashed clothes on the floor in her room. She didn't have a bed.
She could have had a bed. There were beds in the house. She was just deeply mentally ill.
The worst part though wasn't the physical abuse, or the state of the house, or the ridicule from my school mates from wearing the same clothes for a week because your mother didn't do the laundry.
It was the mental abuse.
Hearing your mother say things like, "The only way I can fall asleep at night is by thinking of ways to kill you", or "Idiot boy strikes again" when I would get dishwashing soap instead of dishwasher liquid, wreck a person's psyche. Or, at least, it wrecked mine. Towards the end of it all, before I got out, I was falling apart at the seams. I was lashing out in class, I was slipping academically. I was going to either kill myself or I was going to kill her. I was sure of it.
Luckily, I didn't take either of those paths.
When I was thirteen, I called the cops on my biological mother - the only family I have ever interacted with in my life. This wasn't the first time I had done that, or the first time the state had been over the house. They had been getting calls from kind concerned parents for years, but every time somebody would be dispatched, my biological mother would tell me that I'd better lie, as life in foster care was worse than anything she could ever do to me. And, because I was surviving (albeit barely), I didn't want to risk making things worse, so I lied. I told the social workers that the bruises I got were from playing sports, and that the house usually wasn't this bad - after she'd spend hours cleaning to make it only dirty, not disgusting.
This was, however, the first time I stuck to the truth and didn't recant.
The next few days were a blur, but I was taken to the hospital, then I spent the night at my preschool teacher's house, and spent the next week at my homeroom teacher's house.
At the time, I was attending a $20,000 a year private middle school on a full academic scholarship. Despite being in foster care and coming from the opposite of money, I considered the other kids at that school my peers - kids whose parents made millions of dollars, who were bred to go to Andover and then Harvard, who wore outfits that were more expensive than all the clothes I had ever worn up to that point.
They were my peers, goddamn it, and I wasn't going to let a little thing like severe physical and emotional trauma, and a lack of home support stop me from being like them.
There's this quote, arguably attributed to Steinbeck, about socialism not working in America because the poor think of themselves not as exploited, but as temporarily disadvantaged millionaires. I lived that quote.
As soon as I got out of the abusive household I was in, and was placed in a more stable (but no more loving) house, I rallied.
Slowly, but surely, I got less weird. Less antisocial. My grades improved. I got friends. I got a girlfriend. The next year, when everybody around me was applying to boarding schools, I did too. I got into one. I went to it. There, it was the same story as before. Famous actors' kids, kids with three or four houses, and me, the kid with the clothes from Walmart that the state's meager clothing budget would pay for.
There, I was the captain of the debate team, played two sports, did theater, started and ran an a cappella group, and got one fucking question wrong on my SAT. By any measure, I did alright. And I did it all while bouncing from foster home to foster home every few years, waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats from flashbacks, and being unable to get a high five because I'd flinch instinctively.
None of the foster homes I lived in ever cared for me, in either sense of the word. Some places thought I was too liberal. Some had kids of their own and treated me like a second class kid. Some had never had any kids of any sort before, and threw me back to the system when they realized it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.
So I sort of drifted. Doing well enough academically to set myself up for the kind of life I wanted to lead. And as of two weeks ago, I have it.
I graduated my elite liberal arts school with a degree in computer science, and I'm now making six figures at one of the biggest tech companies in the world. I've got plenty of friends, plenty of close deep meaningful friendships, but I don't have a family. And, to preempt the usual comments, please don't say they're the same. I've spent my entire life with my nose pressed up against the glass of the storefront, seeing the happy faces inside while I've been out in the cold. I know the difference between friends and family.
At least I managed to make sure that I won't go hungry, or have to sleep in front of an oven for heat, or ever have the lights off again.
I wish I had a family. Most nights I go to sleep with that thought in my mind. I'm a broken person without one.
A lot of times I've thought about putting an ad on Craigslist, or the local newspaper, or the internet, or Reddit, or SOMEWHERE saying:
"Family wanted. Me: 23 year old outgoing geeky girl. Self-sufficient in every way except the one that matters. You: Literally anyone willing to take me in as your child. Not as your child conditionally, not as your child until it's weird, but your child whatever happens. However we feel about each other. Just... together."
If you want to be the parents I never had, I'm accepting applications.
Oh, and to add some more flavor to this story, I did all of this while being transgender. Talk about life on hard mode.
with your friends!