True Story: I Went Through the Foster Care System

What's it like to go through the foster care system? If you're a foster kid, is there any hope you can get adopted as a teenager? Click through for one woman's success story!
How did you come to enter the foster care system? How old were you when you entered it?
Hi, my name is Michelle. I was ten years old when I entered foster care. I lived with my birth parents until I was that age, but they had been having some problems stemming from my father losing his job and my mother losing her mother, and had turned to using drugs in order to deal.
They were hardly ever home, and I basically raised myself from the age of six or seven, when their using got really bad, until I was ten. Then my aunt called child services and asked them to remove me from my parents, who were clearly not in a position to care for me.
How many foster homes were you in? Why didn’t the different homes work out?
I was in a total of two actual foster homes, but I lived in a total of four homes before I was finally adopted. When I left my parents at the age of ten, I first stayed for a summer with my half-sister, Shannon. (We share the same father.) However, the state arranged for me to be placed in my first foster home not too long after that, and so I was taken there by my social worker at the end of that summer.

My foster mother, Laura, father, Jeff, and sisters, Charis and Mackenzie, were an instant fit. Charis, who was a year older than me, and I became instant best friends, and to this day I still consider her my sister. I lived with them through sixth grade and through the following summer. That summer Laura and Jeff, who were at that time contemplating a divorce, felt that they shouldn’t have to put me through that. At that point, they weren’t in a position to consider adoption.

So at the beginning of seventh grade I moved in with my aunt and uncle, and two cousins, Ashley and Kelley. I stayed with them for a year. The girls were extremely jealous and felt that they were being denied their parents’ attention since I had come to live with them. Currently, we don’t speak.

The summer before eighth grade, when I was thirteen, I was moved into my fourth and final home. Pauline and Bill, though they hadn’t been considering adoption at first, quickly became Mom and Dad. The three of us just fell in love instantly.

We waited until I was sixteen to make the adoption official. This enabled us to receive some state money for when I went to college. When your parents lose legal rights to you and you’re not yet adopted, you become a ward of the state.

I love them today as though I had lived with them my entire life.

Foster parents often get a bad rap. Is that fair? What’s the “average” foster home like – if there is such a thing?
As you can see, I was so lucky with my two foster homes—my foster parents have treated me better than many of my biological relatives! I think that foster parents often get a bad rap because, as they get paid to do it, many of them do it for the wrong reasons. As far as I know, as long as you have a bed per child, you’re allowed to take in as many as you want, pending you pass the necessary courses and training, of course.

So naturally, there are some people out there who exploit the system and pocket the money, while providing the children with the minimum support possible. However, that clearly was not my experience. Both my sets of foster parents were so caring and supportive, and treated me like their own daughter from day one. It broke Laura and Jeff’s hearts to have to let me go, and my mom and dad never could have imagined not adopting me.

Did you stay in contact with your birth parents while you were in foster care? If so, how did they feel about you being in foster care?
When I first entered Laura and Jeff’s home, I would have scheduled visits with my biological parents, along with a state-appointed aide who would supervise. That didn’t last for long, as my parents continued to struggle with drugs and alcohol. I haven’t seen my birth father since I was probably twelve, although we’ve spoken on the phone. I don’t speak with him at this point in time.

I’ve visited my birth mother about once or twice a year since I started living with my mom and dad. Honestly, it’s really hard. She’s clearly resentful of my parents. Though it sounds crazy, my biological mother simply doesn’t feel like my mother to me.

It’s extremely hard to keep up a relationship with someone simply because you share DNA, if you don’t have any shared values or life aspirations. I’ve worked through a lot of what they put me through, my birth mother still can’t admit that what she did was wrong and that she truly abandoned me. She still views it as people having taken her child from her. I guess I’ve learned that in a lot of cases, water is much thicker than blood.

Did your friends know that you were in foster care? How did they react to that?
My friends always knew I was in foster care, but I can’t remember anyone thinking it was “weird.” People are usually quite shocked when they learn I’m adopted—everyone comments on how much my mom and I look alike. Above all, people seem to be really supportive and genuinely interested.

It’s notoriously hard for older foster kids to find adoptive parents, but you did. How did your fellow foster kids feel about that?
It is definitely notoriously hard for older kids to find adoptive parents. Parents want to raise a baby themselves. I’ve actually known very few other foster kids, and never lived with others, so I can’t say how any would have felt about my being adopted at the age I was. I just know that it’s very rare, and that I’m very lucky.

I can imagine that other parents in the situation my parents were in—their three sons, my adoptive brothers, were all grown up and moved out (they’re 29, 29, and 30). My parents missed having kids, though because they’re almost ready to retire they wanted a child who was a bit older. My parents also never planned on adopting, simply helping kids in trouble. I suspect a lot of the parents who adopt teenagers never planned on it, but it can be really hard when you begin to love a child as your own, at any age!

What advice would you give to someone who’s in the foster care system? Or to someone who’s interested in fostering children?
I think even more than foster parents get a bad rap, foster kids do. People seem to think that they, or we, I suppose, are “troubled,” or just plain trouble. And in a lot of cases, the kids are very troubled—but can you blame them? They need a home where they’ll receive the love and support they need to work through everything that’s happened to them.

I’m so lucky that my adoptive parents were able to give me both the emotional and financial support I needed to be able to be successful in high school and be accepted to a competitive college. But I also know that the reason I go to Williams today is because, when I was a child and essentially parent-less, I realized the importance of going to school.

Though my parents would sometimes still be out at 6am from the night before, I always got myself up and got myself to school. School for me was always a reprieve from what was going on at home, and was completely formative to my identity. I’m proud of being a self-made person, and my education is a big part of that.

I hope that other kids that went through or are going similar experiences realize the importance of an education in escaping any unfortunate circumstances.  If I could give advice to my six-year-old self it would be “make sure your bookshelf always stays full.”

For anyone considering fostering, I would say it’s probably one of the most powerful differences you can make in a child’s life—if, of course, you’re doing it for the right reasons. If you, yourself, are a foster child, never, ever feel ashamed of the hand that life has dealt you.

What may be adverse experiences can make for truly beautiful people, when they fight through them. I would never change a second of anything I’ve gone through. Even though much of it was terrible, I’ve experienced so much love, both given and received, in my life. What I’ve gone through has made me who I am today, and I love her!

Have any of you been through foster care? Any questions for Michelle?

P.S. Other True Stories about family: I live on a commune + My marriage was arranged by the Unification Church.

photo by suhyeon choi // cc

17 Comments

sally

Thank you for this post! I went through child protective services when I was a kid too, and it was nice to read this. I'm sure everyone has a unique experience, but I share a lot of Michelle's feelings about the different ways kids end up bonding (and not bonding) to adults, and the benefits of learning how to be independent at an early age. And I've always wanted to be a foster parent, and this reminded me how important that goal is.

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Sara

Michelle, I know that you are very happy now and experienced a lot of love from different people growing up, but did you ever resent your aunt for calling CPS?

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Rachael

This is a wonderful interview! I hope to possibly adopt older children when I'm at a point in my life that I can. <3

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Michelle

Thanks for the support, everyone! It means so much. Sara, that's a really good question. The answer is sort of complicated because my adult perspective on the situation knows that it was the right thing to do, but I was only ten, and I was confused, and it took me a long time to realize that my parents were to blame. So yes, for awhile I was definitely resentful, but mostly because I didn't understand.

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Luinae

Thanks for this post! My family fosters children (mostly babies) and what you say about coming to love them is true. We've had babies we have raised since birth to about a year old, and you DO NOT want to let them go! It was wonderful to see the other side of the system.

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Roselie

One of the best posts I've read! And actually it all comes down to this, love doesn't come from similar DNA, your biological parents and you true parents are proof of that. Michelle,I 'd say don't precede by telling people that it sounds crazy,that you don't consider them your parents, it gives a bad impression from the begining, just tell people the truth and those with open minds will understand, I talk from experience. Even though I wan't in foster care,I can relate in many things in your story. I 'm so happy things worked out so well for you!

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Anastasia

I work at a residential treatment center for girls. Its a private facility for girls who are not ready to be in a foster home or be adopted, for whatever reason. They can absolutely drive me crazy but they are all amazing in their own way and I'm so glad to see an adult perspective of foster care from the other side. It's a hard and scary thing for the kids.

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Heidi Rose

I don't have any questions- just want to say that I loved reading this. It has – like all the other true life interviews – opened my eyes to something I had only heard about second-hand before. 🙂

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Laura

Thanks for this post. I am an adoptive mom who also fostered for a couple years. I've been raising my son, now 24, since he was 5. It's been a rocky road at times, but I wouldn't change the outcome for the world.

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Sunday Kofffon

I also went through the foster care system, thank you for sharing your story. I have the same situation with my mother and her refusing to take any responsibility for how I got there and it makes it very difficult to have any real relationship with her. It is kind of sad.

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Anonymous

hi i was in foster care since i was 7 years old . when i was in care it was hard , i was just trying to understand why i was in care , but now i know even though it was hard , it was the best thing for me at the time .
new zealand

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Anonymous

What advice would you give to kids that are going into foster care at the age of 13-15?

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Anonymous

Thanks so much for sharing your story!! We have adopted 7 from foster care and recently added an 8th who is 23 and aged out of care with no permanent family. It is so encouraging to hear about your journey as we watch out kiddos struggle with sorting through blame, shame, and all the other emotions that go along with their early experiences. God bless!

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Katie Gonzalez

Sorry I didn’t mean to post as anonymous above! 😜

Thanks so much for sharing your story!! We have adopted 7 from foster care and recently added an 8th who is 23 and aged out of care with no permanent family. It is so encouraging to hear about your journey as we watch out kiddos struggle with sorting through blame, shame, and all the other emotions that go along with their early experiences. God bless!

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Elyjah LaShomb

I’m doing a research project for school and had planned on doing it for school. I’m a senior graduating in a few weeks and I’m just missing one key component. What are you doing now and what have you done to better your life after going through these events?

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