I spent most of my small town Kansas childhood on the fast track to a life destined for failure. My parents were plagued with addiction, and because of that, I was surrounded by drugs, alcohol, and depression at an early age. This created an environment of limits — limited prosperity, limited stimulation and limited expectations. I only knew what I had experienced, and those experiences were about to become my future.
Fortunately, I was removed from my home before I became ensnared in the vicious cycle that was my family’s legacy. I was a frightened eighth-grader when without explanation, I was loaded into a car and deposited on the doorstep of my first foster family. I didn’t realize it then, but I was one step closer to building the life I deserved.
Overall, foster care had a powerful and positive influence on me. I was surrounded by a great community that took the time to make sure I received the best possible care. I learned to embrace the opportunities provided by the system. And although I felt that as a foster child people sometimes expected me to fail, I learned to use that negative stigma to my advantage.
That’s not to say that foster care was always easy. I spent years being bounced back and forth between parents, grandparents and foster families. I witnessed suicide and death at a young age. But as difficult as these experiences were, they provided me with a resilient mindset that has been a major asset in my career. The foster care system provided me lessons learned that I now carry into my profession as a Captain in the United States Army Reserve, the greatest organization in the world.
My success can be partially attributed to the mentors I found in the quiet little town of Kensington, Kansas. Here, a loving foster family, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Bearley, inspired me to think positive and never give up. Clella Hahn, my CASA worker, and her husband, Lowell, encouraged me to develop a close relationship with God. These people, and many others like them, looked past the anger and resentment I exuded as a young teenager, and they loved me anyway, nurturing me and giving me the life-building skills that I just didn’t have before I entered foster care.
I am living proof that the foster care system can offer children more than just a safe haven; there is opportunity within the system! Time and time again I witnessed my mother and father making destructive choices. Once I was in foster care, the families I lived with were determined to keep me from making those same destructive choices. Being removed from that toxic environment allowed me to break the cycle of failure and focus on investing in myself. The more distance I put between myself and my biological family, the more I began to see that I could make a brighter future for myself with the help of the foster care system.
I know that being in foster care can bring with it a negative stigma and feelings of embarrassment. I remember vividly my first week in foster care. During basketball practice at my new school, one of the boys on the team asked innocently about my parents, what they did for a living, and why I had moved to town. He was only being friendly, but I was too ashamed to admit the truth — that I was in foster care — so I lied to him. In those early days in foster care, I felt doomed to fail, and I felt the scrutiny of others who expected me to fail. But I’ve used these feelings as fuel for my fire, and I encourage all foster children to do the same.
We foster children are some of the most resilient people in the world. My advice for young people currently in care is to find positive influences such as foster parents, teachers and members of the community, embrace the awesome opportunities the system provides and use the foster care stigma as motivation to rise to new heights, dream big, think positive and take action! I did just that when I wrote my first book, Succeeding as a Foster Child. Frank Sinatra said it best, “The best revenge is massive success!”
If you’d like to learn more how foster care has affected my life, you can visit www.jamieschwandt.com.
Published on May 25, 2015 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.