With no one there to guide, teach, train or love them, there are estimates that the foster care system fails about 80 percent of the 26,000 foster children who age out each year. What happens to those 20,000 or so young adults?
I look back at my life, and seriously, it scares me to death. My childhood was so horrific and brutal, how could any child prosper with a childhood like mine? My father dumped me and my siblings in the woods like unwanted animals. I remember kneeling in the woods, on my knees, with a dead baby bird in my hands screaming and yelling mentally at God.
I was asking God why he hated me so much that he would give me a life like that. I was so angry with Him. Not that my dad threw me out like garbage, but that God would give me a life like that. Our biological father stole our entire childhood. I knew when I went into foster care at 11 years old, that they had just saved my life.
But the trauma they added to a child in crisis, and the lack of mental health services, would later steal much of my adult life. Three weeks before I aged out, I was on the side of my bed with a handful of sleeping pills. At 35 years old, I was on my knees, broken, yet again.
Then I found a book – “The Best Question Ever,” by Andy Stanley – that gave me a formula for making good decisions. It changed my life.
Today, I am a success story, a foster miracle. But my brother, like millions of other former foster children, has a different story. My brother is in his fifties and has never been able to overcome the tragedy that was our childhood. My brother has been in and out of jail and prison his entire life.
When he’s not in the system, he relies on the system to take care of him. My brother has been on drugs for most of his life as well. I’m never sure where the real Sammy* starts and where the drug Sammy takes over. You see, I truly feel that the drugs have consumed parts of his brain and he no longer lives in the same world we live in.
I spoke with him a few weeks ago and he seemed like the real Sammy. I allowed my heart to get a little closer, yet, unfortunately aware it might not last. Then a few days later, he called again. I listened intently and was greatly saddened to hear his words being swallowed up by drug-induced ramblings, yet again. My brother is currently homeless and has tried to commit suicide three times in the past two-and-a-half months.
I can’t allow him to live or to stay near me. I have fostered and adopted children, and it is not permissible to have a felon inside my house. Secondly, I couldn’t allow him around my young impressionable little boys because I wouldn’t feel they were completely safe.
Then there is the obvious: I would feel uncomfortable because of the drug thing and the stealing thing.
So I am currently in a quandary. What do I do with my brother? What programs are there to help former foster children, who are older, and aged out of the system years ago completely incapable of taking care of themselves? He is NOT the only one, there are hundreds of thousands of them out there!
There isn’t any place he can go to for help as a former foster child who desperately needs to learn the life skills he never learned as a child. And there is no mental help facility for him to go too because he’s not mentally ill enough.
I love him to death and I am devastated that life has stolen our sibling bond, but I can’t help him. My heart is breaking over this. We need help for our older former foster children. They never had the opportunity to have a childhood and then they die never knowing what it is to feel loved, valued or wanted. Never knowing what true happiness is all about. What do we do?
This article is dedicated to my oldest sister Dorothy Shumpert Hall. She died at 31 years, old never knowing what it felt like to have a ‘normal life’. She too was an orphan, a child called ‘unadoptable’. My sister too was a drug addict and lived a very dark life. My sister died never knowing how it felt to feel loved, valued or wanted. My sister died with a label on her head: “Foster Child.”
My sister and brother were and are, causalities of the foster care system.
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.
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