Most people use Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or a host of other social media to show the best of what’s going on in their lives. The truth is, life isn’t always pretty. And for children who grow up in homes where they are neglected, abused, or their parents are substance abusers, life is a game of survival.
With Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan pledging this year to make foster kids and those who age out of the system a top priority for the state of Georgia, I thought it was about time to tell the story of what it is like for some of us who had to be removed from our parents’ care and placed in foster homes.
I am now a 34-year-old adult, but I still have many scars because of parents who just weren’t capable of leaving their demons behind and putting their children first. I was one of those foster kids.
Like many foster children, my biological parents got married too young, divorced and moved on. When I was 7 years old, I was adopted. That’s where the terror began.
I was never really accepted by this family, which wanted to have their own children. I was demoralized, humiliated, denied food, required to sleep in a cold garage, not given proper clothing, verbally abused and severely beaten. I was made to quit school at age 14 under false premises of changing schools so teachers and counselors would stop asking questions about why I was so thin and what was happening to me at home.
When I was 16, I was taken into state custody, but unfortunately was also abused by one of my foster parents – a member of my extended family. By the time I left the foster care system, I found my birth mother and stayed with her until I earned a high school diploma at an alternative school when I was 19.
I eventually moved to Athens and took some online courses before a series of jobs led to me Atlanta, where I now work for a wonderful company in the financial services industry.
Growing up in a highly dysfunctional home is nothing I would wish on anyone. In 2019, there were 13,900 kids in foster care in Georgia. I am one of the rare foster kids who has not wound up in poverty or turned to crime or drugs.
Seventy-one percent of girls become pregnant in the first year that they age out of the foster care system.
Less than 11 percent who age out of the system earn that high school diploma or GED. I was determined to get mine. I wanted to make something of my life after being told I was worthless for years.
Having a mentor who could have pointed me in the right direction would have helped. So many of us former foster kids truly are searching and need someone with wisdom. Thankfully, I found a solid church family that gave me love and support. Too often foster kids don’t have support, and they turn to drugs, prostitution or crime.
We also need advice on how to balance a checkbook, create a budget, do the laundry, grocery shop – all the life skills young people take for granted. Job training, including career counseling, would be a tremendous boost when so many of us are insecure, don’t know what job to pursue, or how to make a living.
As state lawmakers meet this winter, they are considering a host of ideas to help foster kids and foster families, including incentives for adoption, speeding up their cases in court and creating harsh criminal penalties for sexual abuse of foster kids. As a child who aged out of the system, I can tell you it would also be wonderful if the state encouraged recruiting mentors for former foster kids. Additional educational options could certainly help those who never graduated or perform well in public schools and need special attention.
Foster kids have come from some of the most painful experiences you can imagine. We have emotional battle scars that last a lifetime. Anything we can do to prevent this cycle from repeating itself is not only an act of love and compassion but a worthy act of preserving our society.
Chelsea Magee is our Director of Foster Care and Adoption Advocacy, a former foster child, and lives in Cobb County.