Former Foster Youth Fights to Reform Child Welfare While Searching for Brother

Capture1Marchelle Roberts was just seven years old when she and her younger brother, Shawn, were removed from their mother’s home and placed in foster care. Fifteen years later, it’s still a day that remains burned in her memory.CNN reports:

“It was pretty scary for me,” Roberts said. “My brother and I were in the back with a bag full of both of our belongings. My biological mother got out of the car and the lady kept driving, and she drove to someone else’s house and she told us we’d be staying there, and she left. And so nobody really explained to me what foster care was, or what being taken away from your parents meant, or how long it would be for or why it happened.”

Marchelle and her brother were bounced from one foster home to the next for five years in Camden, New Jersey. During that time, she was sexually abused and witnessed her own brother endure emotional abuse:

“If it wasn’t me being abused then it was me seeing my brother being abused, which was more difficult for me,” she said. “I felt strong enough to endure the abuse as long as my brother didn’t have to go through it, and so I would always try to be there, like after school. I would try to make sure I got home and was just there with my brother to make sure he was OK.

Luckily for Marchelle, she was adopted into a loving home that helped her develop her academic talents. Now she’s one of 15 former foster children participating in the Foster Youth Internship Program run by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. The program gives youth like Marchelle a chance to help shape public policy on child welfare issues by working in the offices of members of Congress.

Her experience in foster care has taught her that the system needs to change, including by keeping siblings together in safe homes:

“It’s not just keeping them together, but making sure that they’re in stable environments,” she said. “In the system, youth are taken away from — most of the times — their biological parents because they’re suffering from some kind abuse or something like that, and so I don’t think that being placed into a home where you suffer the same things solves much.”

While there is no denying that Marchelle has turned her life around, she doesn’t know if she can say the same about her brother. She lost touch with him while she was being adopted and hasn’t seen him in 12 years:

“I worry constantly,” she said. “I was able to be adopted and I had a lovely life and all these siblings that love me, I have a mom who loves me, you know I’m just living a great life right now. And I don’t know if his situation was as blessed as mine was.

“And then there’s also — he could have been bouncing around from foster home to foster home and I wasn’t. He could have been adopted and it’s possible his adoptive family didn’t want him to have contact with his biological family, and I think about those things all the time.”