Babble is partnering with FosterMore to help readers better understand and navigate the foster care system. This month is an inspiring story by Mary Lee, who credits her success to foster care.
People assume foster care ends the moment a child is reunified with their family, adopted, or ages out of the system. But that’s simply not true. It’s been nearly 19 years since my “gotcha” date (the day I moved in with my adoptive family), yet I’m constantly reminded that foster care changed both my life trajectory and who I am as a person.
Being removed from your family and placed in a stranger’s home is terrifying, no matter your age. Waking up every day without knowing if you’ll ever see your family again and wondering if you’ll be moved to another placement is gut wrenching. In an effort to limit the number of placements I experienced, I learned survival skills. These included finding something I excelled in for attention and praise, focusing on things I could control, and smiling and laughing extra so people liked me. I didn’t complain and limited the emotions I shared.
I tried my best to keep up the facade of being a well-rounded, happy teenager. However, I felt empty inside. I longed for a family and home where I could just be me. As I got older, I was no longer capable of handling the fear that came with uncertainty and lack of control. So at 16, I asked to be adopted — and my wish was granted one week before my 18th birthday. I’m constantly reminded of how lucky I am because teens don’t usually get adopted.
As I prepared to attend college, all I could think about was using my career to make foster care better for children who would follow in my footsteps. I graduated school with a Bachelor’s degree in social work, but I didn’t feel I was done quite yet. My desire to improve foster care experiences led me to law school and a career in child welfare.
And it’s all thanks to foster care. It truly changed my life. It gave me a loving forever family, a great education, an amazing career that gives my life purpose and meaning, and survival skills for whatever life may bring.
It was not luck that led me to graduate high school, college, or law school.
It was not luck that helped me pass the bar exam on the first try, create a state tuition waiver for foster youth, or have a federal legislation nicknamed after me.
It was not luck that led me to be honored by The White House as a “Foster Care Champion of Change.”
My success is due to the amazing people in my life who believed in me — holding me to higher expectations than I had for myself. They didn’t let me give up even though life was challenging. The power of having a forever family who loves me unconditionally and has a place for me to call home has given me the safety and security to go after my dreams.
I’m often told I’m the exception to foster care because I’m successful. Why is that? Why are children leaving foster care without a trajectory for success? No former foster youth should be considered “lucky” because they’re thriving.
Success should be the norm for all.
For more information, visit FosterMore.