Observations from a Foster Child
The Good and the Bad
I was watching a television show the other day, a rarity for me, but I’m glad I did. “Last Comic Standing” was the show, and on this particular episode one comic was talking about being a foster child as a youngster. He said that his definition of the foster system is where they take a child who has been abused, neglected, and/or mistreated, and put that child in the same, exact situation.
In many cases, that joke is the truth.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people like my two nieces in North Dakota, who have dedicated their lives as foster parents, and who provide loving homes for some very needy and deserving children.
I have lived under both conditions.
For the first nine months of my life I was in nine foster homes. During that time I was unresponsive, listless, and blind. It turns out that I had “Failure to Thrive Syndrome,” a situation where a child does not develop properly because they have received little or no nurturing.
Finally I arrived at my tenth foster home, and nurturing was given, and an adoption was arranged, and I lived a fairytale childhood filled with love.
The good and the bad.
I Was One of the Lucky Ones
I fully understand, today, just how lucky I was. If I had not been adopted by such loving parents, who knows what my life would have looked like sixty-odd years later. We all hear the stories of abuse. Most likely some of you have seen, firsthand, the horrors of poor foster care.
Currently there are over 600,000 children in foster care in the United States. There is a term for them that I find interesting and oh, so telling. They are called the No-Rents, short for NO-paRENTS.
60% of these children are eventually adopted by their foster parents. That, of course, means that 40%, or 240,000 of them, are not.
Let’s look at some more statistics so we can better understand the plight of foster children.
- 54% of them earn a high school diploma
- 2% of them earn a Bachelor’s degree or higher
- 84% of them become a parent
- 51% of them are unemployed
- 30% of them have no health insurance
- 25% of them have been homeless as an adult
- 30% of them are receiving public assistance.
But those are just statistics, cold numbers that give us some indication of the severity of the problem. To fully comprehend what it means to be a No-Rent child, one must look at the psychological and emotional damage done at an early age.
What It Feels Like
Let’s take a look at just a short list of negative effects that can stem from foster care:
- Trouble bonding in later life
- Feelings of rejection and loss
- Feelings of anger
- More likely to suffer from chronic illnesses
- More likely to have behavioral, emotional and developmental problems
- At a higher risk to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder
- Suicide is much more likely among foster children once they reach adulthood
- Much more likely to have eating disorders
- Lacking in vital structure that a stable family environment can provide.
But the subheading clearly states “what it feels like,” and the bullet points above really do not deal in the raw emotions that a foster child deals with daily.
I can only speak for myself, but I suspect there are many out there who will understand, and nod their heads in agreement, because they have felt, and they are feeling, the exact same things.
Please note that I was adopted by a very loving family. I was raised with love. I could not ask for more love from adopted parents. I was never abused, always supported….in short, I am the dream scenario when talking about foster care.
And yet I understand, all too well, the negative effects of foster care.
I remember clearly the feelings of being the outsider and loner growing up. I still feel that today. At family picnics as a child it was obvious who the adoptee was. Put me in a crowded room today and I feel alone and disconnected.
Bonding is a word that other people use. I do not understand it. I hear the term all the time, but I have not lived it. There is a disconnect between me and others around me. I do not trust easily. I do not trust love at all. I have a hard time trusting in friendship. Allowing someone to truly know me terrifies me and always has. For much of my life I have been the consummate actor, saying my lines, taking my assigned place on the stage, delivering a performance that was, and is, masterful….but it is often just that…an act.
So we have a sixty-five year old man who has known love for sixty-four of those years, but who was greatly affected by the one year, that first year, when he did not know love.
Yes, I am a No-Rent Kid, and proud of it.
So What Do I Do?
Weep not for me. I live a good life, and many of those things that bothered me for so many years no longer affect me. The secret, of course, was in gaining awareness and being willing to work through the acres of personal crap to find the truth.
I was a broken kid who did not know how to heal.
I was a broken adult who did not know how to heal.
Today I am, if not healed, at least feeling pretty damned good about life.
And that, my friends, is huge progress.
My father told me, while I was growing up, to always move forward. That’s what I have done, and it has served me well, and I will continue to do so.
Yes, I am a No-Rent Kid, but that does not have to define who I am.
I remember meeting someone back when I was in my thirties. Their name escapes me now, but their words stay with me, and I recall them whenever I think of the foster child system.
During our conversation, they told me that they had been a foster parent for ten years, and then they said, “yes, it’s a great way to make some extra cash.”
I was saddened when I heard it then, and it still saddens me today.
Foster parenting should never be about making some extra cash. We are talking about the life and welfare of a child, and that is about as serious a matter as you can imagine. My nieces do it right. They are foster parents because they love children. Sadly, that is not always the case.
No-Rent Kids, I am one of you. I understand. I do not have a magic pill that will make it all right for you. I wish I did, but all I have are a few observations, and I hope they have helped you. Do not allow your foster childhood to define who you are. Only you can do that, and a change can begin today if you want it to.
God bless you all!
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)