Every foster care story is different. Some kids need temporary care so they can be returned to their biological parents. Others need to be adopted into forever homes. For some kids, a foster home is a loving refuge from a dangerous living situation. For others, it’s a confusing, scary experience that does little to reinforce feelings of acceptance or security.
But many foster care stories have elements in common, too. A couple of things come to mind: 1) Fostering kids in need is typically “messy” because it involves fractured families, and 2) every child in foster care needs—and deserves—to be loved and valued as God’s child.
The following stories were written by people who spent some of their childhoods in foster care. These stories are powerful reminders that foster care isn’t about an institution, but individuals. They also remind us that when good people care for hurting children for the right reasons, precious lives are impacted—sometimes for eternity.
Just Wanting a Home by Jim Daly
After the death of my mother and the abandonment of my stepfather, my older brother, Dave, found a family, the Reils, who would take in my siblings and me. While living with a family I didn’t know wasn’t my first choice, I took comfort in the fact that we wouldn’t be split up. The Reils had a simple routine. We ate cinnamon and sugar on toast with instant hot chocolate for breakfast, every breakfast. In the evenings, the family would listen to the radio, talk and smoke.
In one of my initial visits with our social worker, she said, “Jimmy, Mr. Reil claims you tried to kill him.”
“Me? But . . . I’m 10 years old! How?”
She leaned forward, raised an eyebrow and said, “Mr. Reil claims you tried to push him off of a cliff.”
We were living in the desert. There were no cliffs for miles. My heart started bumping in my chest.
She explained that Mr. Reil was going senile and we had two options: “We can keep you guys together, and you can hunker down here until we find another solution. If so, I’ll do what I can to make sure Mr. Reil understands you don’t mean him any harm. Or we can separate you and place you into the appropriate foster care homes for your respective ages.”
I didn’t like the sound of either of those options. But I stayed.
Life with the Reils never felt like home to me. I was thankful for a roof over my head, a place to bathe and food to eat. But I never felt settled. I certainly didn’t feel loved. I always felt like an undesirable guest.
Calling Them Mom and Dad by Helen Richardson
We didn’t have running water or electricity, and there wasn’t enough food. The trailer where we lived wasn’t a safe space, and my parents struggled to care for me. When someone gave my mother a lift from town back to our trailer, the dangerous conditions in which we lived came to light—and the authorities stepped in.
For years, I bounced back and forth between my parents and foster care. When I was 3, my father passed away. Three years later, my mother passed away, too.
I moved into kinship care, which is care provided by relatives. My grandmother took me in, but when she had a stroke, I was moved into the home of another relative and then another and another.
The bouncing around continued until I was 18 and aged out of the system.
Sometimes I didn’t live with relatives, but with foster families. These experiences were the most meaningful to me. I felt safe. I knew there was enough food.
I had clean clothes, a warm bed and people around me who made me feel secure.
One of my favorite memories is sitting at the counter in the kitchen of a new foster family as the woman explained that I could call her and her husband Mom and Dad if I wanted to.
Being able to call someone Mom and Dad may seem like a simple thing, but those words mean that you are part of a family. That you are loved, wanted, cared for. That no matter what happens, you have someone to go to.
After I left that family, I never called anyone Mom or Dad again.
When I aged out of the system, I went on to college and then work. At first I floundered, but God found me, and I learned during those years when I felt so alone that He was with me. And when I became a Christian, I discovered a huge network of church family.
Today, my husband and I plan to adopt from foster care so we can be Mom and Dad to kids who need a safe, loving family. And we consistently pray for the thousands of other children and youth in the system.
Never Forgotten by Christopher Moore
Our mother had promised she would be back soon, but that felt like forever ago as my brother, Anthony, and I lay on a pile of cardboard boxes in the corner of an abandoned apartment complex.
Anthony was 4, and I was 5. Food was hard to come by. Strangers came and went. Others milled around claiming their own spots.
Sirens rang loud in the night. I was used to that, but then beams of flashlights were everywhere. Two policemen found us. We spent the rest of the night sleeping either in the back of their car or inside the police station.
I was scared. So was Anthony. We had no idea what was going on. We wanted our mother.
Eventually, we were taken to a house where we weren’t allowed to hang out with the other kids in the home. Every night for two weeks, I sat on the edge of my bed and wailed for my mother.
On July 5, 2000, a social worker came to our temporary shelter and took us to our placement. My brother and I grabbed our trash bags of belongings. Anthony and I went for a ride and were dropped off at the door of an unfamiliar house.
My Foster Family
Inside, we discovered a foster family that cared about us.
Three years and a long custody battle later, Anthony and I were given the right to stay in that home and become Moores. We were adopted on April 2, 2003, and it was one of the best days of my life.
In spite of all I experienced, I realize now that God never forgot about me or left me. He had a plan and purpose for my life, a plan and purpose that is still unfolding.
Though it took me a few painful years to find healing, I am now 26 and married to my best friend and beautiful wife. We own our own home and are dog owners of the cutest goldendoodle.
I thank God for all He has done and is doing in my life.
I am blessed.
Breaking the Cycle by Genevieve Traversy
I vividly remember standing outside my foster home on a crisp autumn evening and hearing my caseworker say that I was “unadoptable” now because I had turned 12.
I felt numb. The rustling leaves on the trees seemed to stop moving. The dirt driveway felt like it was crumbling beneath my feet.
I was unwanted. Undesirable.
Between ages 3 and 18, I was placed in 16 different homes. I grew up surrounded by social workers, lawyers, multiple foster parents and siblings. So many lives touched mine, yet I felt like no one could relate to me.
When the other kids in middle school discovered I was just a “poor foster kid with no family,” the pain I felt drove me to act out in unhealthy ways. I turned to fighting, anorexia, drugs and abusive relationships with older men.
At age 15, I found myself pregnant, alone and afraid. When a clinic nurse encouraged me to have an abortion to “help my situation,” I literally ran from the building. Covering my belly protectively with my arms as I ran, I promised my preborn child that I would love and protect him. His life wasn’t a surprise to God. My child was wanted and desired by our heavenly Father and by me.
Raising my son while going to high school and college was not easy. But I was determined to break the cycle of foster care in my biological family.
I married my high school sweetheart, and we had four additional children, the youngest of whom we adopted.
My former caseworkers began to set up speaking engagements for me to share my story. Eventually I started teaching foster parenting classes. Through these opportunities and others, I’ve been able to share what it means to be a foster child, foster and adoptive mother, and child of God. After all, my heavenly Father adopted me and healed my fractured soul through His genuine love for me.
Learning the Language of Family by Aruna Moore
I was born in Cambodia to an Italian American pianist and a Cambodian woman. My mother wanted nothing to do with me.
While my father was not rich, he was considered a wealthy American in the eyes of the Cambodian people. But when I was 5, my father got into an accident and lost his job at the hotel where he was employed. I was placed in two different orphanages before my father and I moved to the United States.
Once in the U.S., my father and I stayed in a motel. He was abusive, so I was removed from his care. I was placed first into a transitional home and then into a home with a Cambodian family.
At this point, I was almost 6. Living in a home with running water and electricity was new to me. I also only spoke Khmer.
The Cambodian couple already had three children. The county let them take me in because they spoke fluent Khmer. They were supposed to teach me English.
But as I began to learn English, I started losing my grasp of Khmer—and apparently my foster mother didn’t approve. I remember she wouldn’t let me watch Cinderella unless I asked to watch it in Khmer. She also wouldn’t let me go into the pool or play with certain things unless I spoke my request in Khmer.
I started acting out and throwing tantrums. I was told that if I misbehaved one more time, I would have to leave.
Eight months after this placement, the couple told the county they didn’t want me. Their rejection reinforced my fear that I was unworthy of love.
I knew Jesus loved me and that God had sent Him to die in my place, but it wasn’t until I was older that I put my life in His hands.
Shortly before my seventh birthday, I was adopted into a family that showed me unconditional love.
The day they adopted me is one of the most important days of my life.