Getting a Second Life Through Adoption

By Michael Howard

I was in foster care for the first four years of my life. michael-howard-large-254x300Calling it difficult would be an understatement. Even from that young age, I was already watching other children with their parents and trying to figure out my identity: Will I ever have a family? Will I find my biological mother? Who did I belong to?

I was in at least four different foster care homes during that time. I remember the last two. I had to leave one because the foster parents decided to adopt my biological sister, but not me. It was emotional, and I wondered whether 
I would see my sister again, but my main focus was on needing a mom.

After that I was in a home with anywhere from 12-15 children, a mix of biological and foster kids. I was second to youngest. There were times I would go to bed, not starving, but not full either. I would feel lost and neglected amongst all those kids. I hurt because I felt like an outcast without my own family. When you’re a foster care child, you feel separate from the world. You have no family, no guidance, and you feel like no one can understand you. At least that’s how I felt.

I have been told that fewer foster parents are stepping forward, but this could be a good thing: I have heard of and seen countless instances of foster parents abusing their power. Some foster parents see nothing but money when they look at foster care children. I would hope that wasn’t the case when I was in the system, but who knows. I’d rather there be fewer foster parents taking care of the children for all the right reasons than to have more ignorant ones collecting checks.

I was lucky to have my name in the local papers and on local television channels broadcasting my urgent need for a family. Well, lucky might not be the best word, because I remember families coming to the foster care homes and scoping me out, contemplating whether they wanted me to be a part of their family. My guard was up and my hopes were never high, but the thought of being part of a family never vanished.

And then my mother found me. It took her six to eight months to adopt me, maybe even longer. She had to go through a strident approvals process. Her life was an open book. She had to be interviewed and go to workshop classes. Her biological daughter (now my sister) was interviewed. My mother said it was like hell, and she questioned whether it was all worth it.

But I am happy she did. She is the best mother, the love of my life, the reason why I’m speaking out today. She raised a young boy into a young man, and couldn’t have done a better job. She always had high expectations for me, and even sent me to private schools. To this day, I feel like I owe her my life because she gave me a second life — a new name, a new identity, the chance to thrive. Being a single parent was difficult, but she juggled bringing up her biological daughter and me, spending equal time on both of us.

I wish all prospective foster parents were required to do at least this much, if not more. The system should make it very difficult for a foster parent to become authorized, certified and licensed to take care of a child. Where they work, who their friends are, how much money they make, how many kids are already in the household — this all needs to come to the surface. Child welfare workers should consider why potential foster parents want to foster, because they need to spend at least as much time with foster kids as their own. If they’re just in it to collect the monthly stipend, that’s selfish, and emotionally damaging.

Every foster care child deserves the same outcome I had. Around 400,000 children are in foster care on any given day in this country–400,000! That number has to decrease significantly, but it is not going to if people don’t know the real facts concerning foster care and the importance of adoption.

I reach out and share my journey about foster care to everyone I can. Even though I didn’t suffer too much, the public needs to know that overall it’s the foster care children who see more violence, more abuse than almost anybody else. Those boys and girls are the real heroes. The fact they have all that baggage with them and still somehow live a normal life impresses me to no end. Society has no clue what they go through, mentally or physically. They deserve more respect from adults.

My story is just one of many. I just wish all foster care children could be so fortunate.

Published on May 18, 2014 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.