Anger. Hurt. Frustration. Loneliness. Abandonment. Confusion. Emptiness. If you spent any time in our nation’s foster care system, more than likely you know those feeling intimately. You understand what it is like to be taken from the only home you ever knew, and left to fend for yourself in the foster care system. You know too well the baggage that comes with being labeled as a “foster child”.
Perhaps you eagerly awaited the day that you “aged out” of foster care. Or, maybe, you were scared, and worried about your future. Regardless, life after foster care offers hope. It’s new beginning. Here are some tips for life after foster care. These are geared more towards foster children who recently aged out of the system, but are written for all former foster children.
Tip for Former Foster Children #1: Think Positively About Your Future
No matter what happened before, and during your years in foster care, now is a fresh start. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. Be optimistic about your future. Try your best not to dwell on what’s happened in the past, but rather, what can happen today and tomorrow. Have a good attitude and positive frame of mind.
Try to not let anything in your past control how you feel about yourself, and your future. You are not “broken”. You are not “abnormal”. You are not “damaged”. In order to succeed you must be strong, hopeful and confident. Avoid letting feelings of anger and resentment take over your life. You deserve the best, think positively!
Tip for Former Foster Children #2: Find Support
Okay, the thought of getting together with other former “foster kids” might not sound too appealing at this time. After all, you probably had to deal with a roommate who stole your stuff, or a foster brother who treated you like dirt.
But, the thing is, other former foster children know what it’s like. They know the feeling of seeing other happy families laughing together, and you wishing you had that. They know the frustration of not having a parent to turn to for advice on everything from doing laundry to buying a house. They’ve been in your shoes, for the most part, and they “get” it. You might meet older adults who can offer you free advice, or people your age who are going through similar situations.
I highly encourage you to at least try to find the support, encouragement and friendship of other former foster children. Ideally it’s great to have a real-life support group, but online support groups can be beneficial as well. For resources and links, read “Online Resources and Web Sites for Former Foster Children”.
Tip for Former Foster Children #3: Get Counseling
I highly recommend finding a reputable therapist who can help you cope with life’s issues. He/she can assist you in everything from dealing with past trauma, to your current relationships today.
Unfortunately, counseling can be very expensive. If you can’t afford it, and you don’t have insurance that covers it, call 211 for referrals. (Read “How to Get Social Service Help Through 211” for details.) Ask the worker for free or low cost counseling recommendations. Most universities have a program where master’s level students provide free or low cost counseling. (In some cases, they might actually be better than therapists who have worked for years and years.)
Also most communities have programs where you can get free counseling through a center. Some agencies that serve victims of domestic violence will offer free counseling to anyone who has been abused at one point in their life. Look for one in the phone book and call and ask. Some churches provide free counseling as well.
If you had a counselor while in foster care, get in touch with him/her for referrals. If you lived at a group home for abused and neglected children, in some cases the counselor on staff will see you at no cost, even though you no longer live there. Just call and ask.
Getting counseling is a sign of strength. It is not absolutely essential, but it can really make a difference.
Tip for Former Foster Children #4: Join a Church
I advocate finding a loving church family to belong to, if you don’t already have one. Church is not just a place to grow spiritually and learn more about God, it’s a place that offers you support through challenging times in life. Read “How to Find a Good Church” for some advice. If you go to a church and don’t feel welcome, please don’t give up. Keep trying until you’ve found a good match.
Tip for Former Foster Children #5: Keep in Contact With Siblings, Think Wisely Regarding Family Contact
If you have any younger brothers or sisters that were in foster care as well, by all means, keep in contact with them. Do your best to be a positive role model and example to them – as all siblings should.
If you lost contact with your biological family, I am not completely against getting in touch with your parents. But, I think this decision should be made after a lot of careful thinking. I encourage you to discuss this with a counselor. In some cases, you might just want to have letter / phone call relationship for now. Or, you might want to see them, but, if the situation is not appropriate, do not stay in active contact with them. If you have no desire to find then, this is definitely, absolutely okay and the best decision for you. If your mother or father contacts you, and you don’t want to contact him/her now, do not feel guilty about saying no. Please seek advice and counsel regarding this issue.
Tip for Former Foster Children #6: Enjoy Life Without Children for Awhile
This tip is geared more towards foster children that have recently aged out. If you are reading this, and already have a child or two, this does not apply to you. (Yes, you can be a wonderful nurturing parent regardless of your age, background, and past situation.) The fact that you’re reading this shows that you are very proactive and wise.
However, if you don’t have children yet, please, I urge to you to wait awhile for children. I personally feel that its ideal to be married at least two years before becoming pregnant. This is not to say that single moms can’t be good parents, but it is so much easier (and better for the child) to have a partner.
You’ve had a rough childhood, and you deserve to enjoy life without the responsibility of another human being that needs your devotion about 100% of the time. That doesn’t mean that you won’t be a great parent one day (I’m sure you will) but that is a excellent idea to wait a few years.
Tip for Former Foster Children #7: Volunteer
If you want to, I highly encourage volunteering. It can be very therapeutic to help someone else in need, and there are numerous social service agencies that would be thrilled to have your help. Read “Volunteer Opportunities for Former Foster Children” for suggestions.
Tip for Former Foster Children #8: Stay Away from Drugs
Please, do not experiment with drugs. Nothing good can come from it. I urge you to never, ever, try any illegal drug, not even once. If you find yourself in bad company, it’s time to make new friends. If you need to, move to a new area. I know it sounds extreme, but drug abuse will only lead to future problems. Do you really want your future children to live the same childhood you did? As you might know, drug abuse is one of the main reasons why children are removed from their homes. I know it sounds trite, but just say no. Stay away from individuals who use drugs.
Tip for Former Foster Children #9: Speak Out
Were you abused while in foster care? Did you keep it a secret? If so, please, I urge you to report this horrible crime. Whether you were abused physically, sexually, or verbally it must be reported. If you were sexually abused call a rape crisis center in your area for help on reporting it. I would simply call the child abuse hot line for reporting physical or emotional abuse while in foster care. This needs to be done to prevent it from happening to another child.
If you were in a group home, and feel that some of the things that happened to you in foster care were not appropriate, but all means report it. I recommend contacting the board of directors president, perhaps writing a letter, and asking to meet with him/her to discuss your situation. You might share ideas on how the home can be improved, etc. Do it for the sake of future residents. Your voice does matter.
Tip for Former Foster Children #10: Ask for Help
Do not hesitate to seek assistance if you need it. By that, I mean if you find yourself in a crisis and needing help with food, utilities, medicine, etc., don’t be afraid to ask for help. Call 211 – read “How to Get Social Service Help By Calling 211.”
That being said, however, i highly encourage you to have a budget and practice money management skills. I recommend reading books by Dave Ramsey. If possible, take his course – “Financial Peace University” if it is offered in your area. Join an online money management forum for advice. Avoid the temptation to get into credit card debt.
These are just a few tips for life after foster care. Take it easy, relax, and hang in there! Enjoy Your Life!