Eddie Murphy, Cher, Willie Nelson, Ice T, Wayne Dyer, Steve Jobs, Marilyn Monroe, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Babe Ruth, John Lennon, and me. What did they all have in common? They were all foster kids. Bet you didn't know that!
I also bet you didn't know Sandra Bullock adopted her 3-year-old daughter, Laila, from the foster care system.
May is National Foster Care Month, and there are currently more than 400,000 children in the U.S. in foster care and over 100,000 of them are awaiting adoption.
I spent 3 years in the foster care system, until I "aged out" upon graduating high school. After that, I went to college at the University of Michigan.
How did I ended up in foster care, you're probably asking. My mom was incapable of taking care of me. So, most of my early childhood I was raised by my grandparents, until I was 9, when my grandmother died. Then I went to live with my aunt and uncle for a year in Connecticut then a year in Florida. Then they split up so I went back to Ohio to live with my grandfather. I bounced back and forth between my mom and grandfather. My grandfather was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. So it was tough to stay there for long. Living with my mom was no picnic either. Not only did she have mental health issues, I was home alone every night because she worked the 3rd shift. As a 13-year-old, I'd stay up all night during the summer, programming my own bulletin board system from scratch, then sleep during the day. I ran that BBS on my mom’s only phone line (it was a hoot when she'd try to use the phone and discover the phone was being tied up). I'm still a night owl who works best at night. It wasn't until recently that I put two and two together and realized that my late night work habits are a childhood coping mechanism.
Anyways, after a while, I ended up back with my grandfather. When his health started to deteriorate, he called Children's Services and I went into the foster care system.
Luckily, I ended up with a wonderful foster mom. Her husband, though - not so much. He and I didn't see eye to eye. He was an alcoholic and hard to live with.
To this day I'm still close with my foster mom. I send her flowers on Mother's Day and on her birthday. Many Thanksgivings of my adulthood were spent at her home.
Unlike the stereotypical foster kid, I was a foster kid who "made it." As a student with a 4 point GPA and a 32 on my ACT, Children’s Services treated me like a star. I have to admit, I enjoyed the attention. I work with computers to this day, authoring books about search engine optimization and social media, and consulting with big brands on how to get their websites higher ranked in Google.
But back to stereotypes, let's not perpetuate them. Here are 3 Big Lies About Foster Kids and I'm about to debunk them for you:
LIE: Foster children are badly behaved.
TRUTH: More than half of Americans wrongly believe that children in the foster care system are juvenile delinquents, according to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. In fact, the children are the victims, rather than the perpetrators. Children enter foster care because of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment at the hands of their biological family.
LIE: Foster kids are underachievers.
TRUTH: 65% of former foster children experienced seven or more school changes (K-12). Can you imagine trying to keep your grades up in that kind of instability and uncertainty at that young of an age?
LIE: Foster kids have medical or behavioral needs that make them difficult to parent.
TRUTH: Only one-third of the children in foster care have any kind of diagnosable disability, according to a report from United Cerebral Palsy and Children's Rights
Want to do something to help? Here's my "CARE" formula to take action and make a difference:
- Charity -- Give to organizations like Pajama Program, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Together We Rise, or CASA. And/or you can volunteer for these great charities or another organization of your preference, which you can find using the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Search.
- Attend training -- like PIP (Partnerships in Parenting). Parenting children who have been neglected and abused is different.
- Requirements for licensing -- At least 21, legal U.S. resident, apartment dweller, renter or home-owner, able to pass a fingerprint-based criminal history records check.
- Evaluation -- by a licensing agency of your home safety and of your fitness to serve as a foster parent. A list of licensing agencies is on the Children's Services site in your state. For example, if you're in Arizona, their list is on the AZ DCS website.
Thanks for reading! Now go out there and make a difference for a child!