In the U.S. today, there are more than 500,000 children living in foster care. Georgia alone has more than 14,000 children and young people in the foster care system.
My brother and I were two of them. Before we entered foster care, I used to clean the house, do dishes, make sure we had food, and even discarded drug paraphernalia to keep the home safe for the two of us. I was only 5 years old.
Foster care can be a life saver for children like us, but it should be a temporary solution. Too many children like my brother and me end up spending their entire childhood in the system and age out with no family to rely on and no permanent home. A report by Kids Are Waiting showed that there has been a 41 percent increase nationally in the number of youth leaving foster care without a family of their own since 1998, despite an overall decrease in the number of foster children.
I spent years 12 years in the foster care system, moving from place to place. Most painful of all, I was separated from my younger brother. I later learned he was living only a couple of exits down the highway, just a few minutes away, but we had no contact.
Our experiences in foster care could not have been more different. The first few years, I moved around a lot and led a lonely, unstable life. Then I was placed in a group home, where I found stability with the help of my social worker, who is now my mentor and father figure.
My brother also moved from placement to placement, but he was not connected with supportive adults who could provide the kind of mentorship I relied on.
I was encouraged to graduate from high school and go on to college. I am now working on a Bachelor’s degree in Electronic Engineering. My brother aged out of foster care at age 18 without either a high school diploma or a GED.
I have my own apartment. Without guidance, my brother became homeless.
I have worked with the First Lady of Georgia and the Georgia Supreme Court on foster care policies and have traveled the country to motivate and educate my younger peers in foster care. With a criminal record and no education, it is now almost impossible for my brother to get a decent job.
I have testified before Congress about the urgent need for foster care reform – in Georgia and across the nation. I shared the story of my brother and me, and I asked members of Congress for change.
It is important to me that we do not take chances with all my other brothers and sisters in the nation’s foster care system who will age out of foster care. We should start by looking at the way the federal government pays for foster care. Today, most federal financing pays for children to be removed from their homes and put into foster care – even when other services or supports might help families stay together, keep kids out of foster care, or make sure that children can spend less time in foster care.
I think about what a difference this might have made for my brother and me. What if federal funding could have been used to provide support for programs like drug treatment or housing programs to keep families together, or create permanent families through reunification, adoption, and legal guardianship? What if it could have been used to recruit more foster and adoptive families who would keep brothers and sisters together, rather than separate them? Maybe we wouldn’t have lost so much time together, and maybe our paths to adulthood would have been equally successful.
Georgia’s foster children need our help. We have to work together to make sure that more children and youth leave foster care for loving, permanent families.
Georgia native Anthony L. Reeves, 25, entered foster care at age eleven after he was abandoned by his mother and his grandmother. He experienced five foster homes before his final placement, where he found stability with fatherly guidance and motherly support.
2006 All-Star JJ Hitch told this story in Washington DC at a Congressional Briefing: “We all ran away to our grandparents’ house because they were the only stability we had.