The perspective of a former foster youth provides insight into the foster care system. Each child and teen’s experience is unique. Getting to know a former foster youth’s story can grow our understanding of the foster care journey.
When Kimarri Whitfield was four years old, he and his three siblings went to live at Palmer Home for Children. Looking back, Kimarri knows it was the best place for them at the time. He remembers how surprised and excited he and his siblings were when they realized they had constant electricity. At Palmer Home, they did not have to worry about whether there would be food on the table.
Kimarri thinks fondly of his time at Palmer Home. As a faith-based organization, Palmer Home provides care to children through a variety of services, including campus care, foster care, and transitional care. At Palmer Home, there are caregivers, case workers, counselors, and tutors who care for children on a personal level. Kimarri credits Palmer Home for instilling in him the Christian faith. Palmer Home provided him the opportunity to attend Christian schools and get involved in sports. In this environment, Kimarri was able to thrive.
The Choice to Join a Family
One of the most important decisions presented itself when Kimarri was in high school. He played basketball and football and was close with his coach, Antwann Richardson, and Antwann’s wife, Kaleena. Kimarri vividly remembers one game where he got a nosebleed. His Palmer Home houseparents weren’t there – they were unfortunately busy shuffling other children to games and practices – so Kaleena stepped in to help. Later that year, the Richardsons asked Kimarri if he would like to live with them. He jumped at the opportunity.
By this time, Kimarri had already developed a strong relationship with the Richardsons. Palmer Home has a mentorship program, and as Kimarri’s mentors, the Richardsons would often would take him home from basketball and football games. Every once in a while he would spend the night at their home. He even had his own room there. The Richardsons had two young biological children that loved Kimarri. Their daughter was three years old at the time, and she always wanted to hold his hand. The Richardsons also had a son who was really into football, and he and Kimarri bonded over their shared love of the sport. Kimarri fit right in to the Richardson family. He also remains in close contact with his biological siblings, as well as his grandmother.
The Importance of Faith and Family
Kimarri credits his success to his faith. “I wouldn’t be where I am without it today,” he says. Going to church and learning the characteristics of Jesus has helped him persevere throughout various trials as a former foster youth. Even now as a young professional working in the field of accounting, he often asks himself, “How can I portray Jesus to others?” His faith guides each decision he makes and influences how he carries himself.
Looking back, Kimarri has plenty of advice he can offer to children or teenagers who are in foster care. Most importantly, he would encourage those children and teens to be themselves. “Go into it as yourself, as you are,” he says tenderly. “Be open about everything, especially if you’re dealing with something.” Kimarri learned that families work through things together, and he knows how important the help of a family can be in overcoming challenges.
Advice From a Former Foster Youth for Families Considering Fostering
Kimarri always encourages families that are interested in fostering to do it. “You never know the impact you could have in someone’s life,” he insists. It is a blessing to give someone a place to go where they know they are safe.
Kimarri knows that it is a gift children will carry with them throughout their lives. Antwann and Kaleena Richardson (his adoptive parents) had never fostered before. Even if you only say “yes” once, it is a “yes” that forever changes a child’s life.
The Key Players in a Former Foster Youth’s Life
Kimarri says that his houseparents at Palmer Home were important figures for him as he was growing up. Houseparents are a unique role that do not exist in every state. While growing up on the Palmer Home campus, Kimarri’s houseparents were his primary caregivers, similar to foster parents. He remembers how they showed him love in practical ways. They got him where he needed to go. They encouraged him to get involved with sports. He knew they were always there to help.
Kimarri also had a social worker with whom he bonded over basketball. They still talk to this day. Finally, the other children at Palmer Home were important people in Kimarri’s life when he lived there. “They were in it with you so they definitely understand everything,” he says. To this day, he keeps in contact with some of the children that he grew up with at Palmer Home.
How the Future Looks
After high school, Kimarri received a scholarship to play football in college. He studied accounting and was offered a job that he started shortly after graduating. Kimarri remains a beacon of hope and encouragement for children and teens in foster care. As a former foster youth, he has a story that stirs hearts for families that are considering foster care.
God clearly had a plan for Kimarri’s life. Not only did he grow up at Palmer Home in a safe and loving environment, but he also joined the Richardsons in a seemingly unexpected way. With a light chuckle, Kimarri says, “I was playing basketball one day, and that started it all.”