Standing With Foster Youth, Not Against Them

By Tiffany McGrady

tiffany largeI often hear people wishing that they could be kids again, but for me, there is nothing good to go back to. Those were agonizing years that I never want to repeat. When I was two, my mother abandoned my father, sisters, and me in exchange for her new boyfriend. Then in kindergarten, my father moved out of our apartment while I was at school. He took everything with him…everything except for his children. But that was the easy part for me.

Over the next fourteen years, I was placed in nearly twenty different foster homes. I quickly learned that foster homes are like fingerprints: No two are ever exactly alike. On one end of the spectrum, I enjoyed pool parties, riding ponies and cuddles. On the other end, I felt like I was serving a prison sentence for a terrible crime. I was restricted to my bedroom for weeks at a time, under the guard of a motion sensor. I was also locked in closets. One foster family didn’t even allow me in the yearly family portrait.

My sense of self-worth plummeted. I was choked, smothered with a pillow, and had my face slammed on the floor more times than I could keep track of. One foster father touched me inappropriately, and at another home I woke up with the foster mother’s boyfriend on top of me. I was even brainwashed to believe that I never saw my sisters because they hated me. These things destroyed my psyche and by the age of 11, I began praying to God that He would take my life and not wake me up the next morning. When he didn’t, I began attempting suicide.

Eventually, I opened up to a psychiatrist. My claims of abuse were reported but they seemed to have been swept under the rug. I genuinely believe that I would have been safer with my own father, had he not abandoned me, than I had been in foster care. However, once I grew up and escaped the havoc, foster care gave me purpose in life. It gave me the ability to cry for children that I do not know and to speak up for others because no one ever spoke for me. Today, my dreams are for the children. Without foster care, I would have grown up without this passion.

Finding and retaining placements for an overflow of children should not be done at the expense of the children’s safety. The approval process could benefit from serious modifications that ensure faulty individuals no longer sneak in to the system. And I wish the Department of Social Services (DSS) understood that it is better for children to live with their siblings in a group home than away from them in a foster home. Secondly, the success rate of children in foster care would skyrocket with the support of a mentor or advocate throughout their entire stay in the system, not just during the court process. All children need someone to help ensure that they remain safe! Thirdly, it is important that children have a voice in life altering decisions.

At the age of eighteen, I signed myself out of foster care. I had never used a stove, driven a car, nor managed bills. I didn’t even have a high school diploma. I was excited about being “free,” yet I was grossly unprepared. Today, my success can be credited to one thing: the painful feeling in the pit of my empty stomach I felt when I had no food. Hunger drove me to “keep my head above water.”

The most influential person during my 14 years in foster care was a foster mother who introduced me as her “daughter” and not her “foster daughter.” It was such a simple gesture, but it had a huge impact on me. I was fourteen and had never been called anyone’s daughter before. I was no longer a trophy but a human being. Her love influenced me to change my life. She was a devout Christian and I soon joined her wholeheartedly in the same spirit. Through love, I was transformed.

Foster children should know that there are more people standing with them than against them. God has a special place in His heart for orphans and foster children–they have a relentless defender! They do not have to be a product of their upbringing. There are no limits to the greatness they can achieve– Just believe, go forth, and never settle! This is only a short season in life. It will soon be over and then they can show the world what they are made of!

Published on May 28, 2016 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.