A few years ago, a woman contacted me through LinkedIn. She had heard about my book, Foster Girl, a Memoir and wanted to learn more about my experiences growing up in the foster care system. When she found out that I was one of the less than 4 percent who graduated with a four-year college degree, and that I worked in social services, she asked to fly out to California to meet with me.
A month later I met Connect Our Kids co-founder Jessica Stern, in-person at a quaint café in Coronado, a palm tree-lined, beach island on San Diego’s peninsula. She had been spending her own resources and time interviewing social workers, family recruiters and court appointed special advocates (CASA) across the country for years because she was working on a project with her co-founder, Dr. Jennifer Jacobs.
They wanted to know if anyone from social services contacted my extended family while I was in foster care. They wanted to know if I stayed in touch with any of my relatives. They wanted to know if I felt like I had a sense of belonging with my family — despite the traumatic life events that forced me into the foster care system.
So I shared my experiences: the good, the bad and the extremely difficult. In return, they shared their vision to make sure the next generation didn’t struggle and go through the things I went through as a child and as a young adult aging out of foster care, alone in the world.
At age 18, I aged out out of the system. Because my social workers were overloaded with other children, they were unable to contact my extended family: aunts, uncles, cousins, anyone. They simply did not have enough time in the day. Also, at that time, there was no technology in place to make these connections. So, my sister and I were stuck bouncing around foster homes, receiving homes, group homes and once, at a homeless shelter.
After I turned 18, I searched the Internet for family members. It took weeks but I finally started to make connections. One was with my maternal aunt, whom I’d never met. I had mixed feelings about connecting. I was so used to being on my own and I had nothing but negative emotions and associations when it came to the idea of “family.”
When my aunt picked up the phone, we caught up with our lives but then she said something that truly stunned me and still has a deep impact on me to this day. She said, “Georgette, I never knew you were in foster care. No one notified me … had I known, I would have taken both you and your sister in.”
I’d like to think things have changed for children who are currently in foster care but the fact of the matter is, modern technology is moving too fast for the system to keep pace. With over 430,000 children in the system, it’s challenging to connect every kid to a supportive network.
That’s why Connect Our Kids exists. The organization’s “People Search” for caseworkers is the only free tool I know of made to help child welfare professionals find families and mentors for foster children. This is especially important, since I know from working in social services, not every county has the same amount of resources.
I’m glad that the LinkedIn platform connected me to Jessica and the Connect Our Kids mission. We all know that technology has the power to connect us to anyone from around the world — it’s now time to use that power to connect every foster child to a loving family and mentors who will care for them the way my aunt would’ve done.
Georgette Todd is the author of “Foster Girl, A Memoir,” which includes her actual court documents and chronicles her childhood abuse and teenage years growing up in California’s foster care system. She is also a California Ambassador for Connect Our Kids.