As college students arrive at school and prepare to start the new academic year, I am reminded of the painful, bittersweet occasions that I - a young person who has aged out of foster care and who recently graduated from college - have experienced.

Parents' weekend at college was one of the most painful experiences I have ever endured. I wanted so badly for someone to come, but it wasn't feasible. The fact that my parents were not there to visit was exacerbated by the fact that many of my friends wanted to introduce their parents to me. I will never forget the time I walked into our dining commons and someone asked me if my parents were here yet. I slid my tray away and began to cry--humiliated and, worse, alone.

When I entered foster care, my family was torn apart. I was separated from my six siblings. I moved from placement to placement, and love and friendship were elusive concepts for me. It's not that I lost friends every time I moved; I simply never made them. I ultimately "aged out" of the system without a family to support me.

According to recent research, most Americans do not consider a person to be an adult until they are about 26 years old - - or until they have finished school, have a full-time job, and have started on the path of beginning their own family.

Young people - like me - who age out of foster care do not have this luxury. The decisions we face everyday - how we will pay our bills, put food in our mouths and keep a roof over our heads - are difficult, and must be answered without the guidance or support of a family.

Unprepared for life on our own, many young people who age out of foster care become homeless, unemployed, incarcerated or suffer from physical or mental illness. Only half will graduate from high school; just three percent will graduate from college.

As a graduate of high school and a rising senior at Taylor University, I have defied these odds. But, that does not mean that I do not fervently wish for a family of my own.

When I first stepped onto campus, I wanted someone to congratulate me. I wanted someone to say that they would miss me! The biggest trials for me have been figuring out where to go for the holidays, who I am supposed to introduce as my mother, and wondering what it will be like when college no longer shields me from the painful reality that I truly am "a foster kid," out on my own.

This doesn't need to keep happening. The time to ensure that all children in foster care can leave the system to live with permanent families is now.

If I had a family - someone who truly cared - I would have been proud to introduce them to my friends during parents' weekend. I would need no qualifiers, no awkward pauses, and no tears in the dining commons. Just eight little words: "Hey, I want you to meet my family..."

As a nation, we must do a better job of making certain that youth in foster care have family relationships and are prepared for adulthood.

Every day we fail to act, 67 children like me leave foster care without a permanent family. How many more of these children will we fail?

2004 All-Star Sharde Armstrong Entered the foster care system at the age of six with five other siblings. She spent 12 years transitioning between the foster care system and her parents until finally aging out of the system at 18 after graduating. She has worked in the United States Senate through the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institutes (CCAI) Foster Youth Internship program. Learn more about Sharde

Read more about aging out...

Read more about sibling separation...

Read more about other topics in foster care...

NFYAC's Top 10 Recommendations for Ensuring Every Youth Aging Out of Foster Care Has a Place to Call Home provides some great suggestions on ensuring that young aging out find safe, stable, and affordable housing Click to read more...

Free Tagging: 

like
1

Comments

Well,you do have relatives.

Anonymous's picture

Well,you do have relatives. What about those five siblings of yours? Can you not contact them? I'm sure they would like to know you, after all , you are their sister. Bestoink Dooley in Atlanta.

like
0

My heart is crushed just

Anonymous's picture

My heart is crushed just knowing someone else felt the same pain and abandonment that i once felt, it has been a tough journey and sometime you can have a lot of outsider that come into your life only to get to a point where they to abandon you. its like an ongoing horror, i pray that God will shield and protect everyone whos ever been abondon or neglected by the ones who was suppose to love and protect them

like
0

I have a hard time

Anonymous's picture

I have a hard time understanding stories such as yours. How could you be living with a foster family and they just release you to the world because you were 18. I can't imagine just abandoning a child who had lived with me just because they were 18. That is so sad...

like
0

I have wanted to adopt or be

Aeriadel's picture

I have wanted to adopt or be a foster parent since I was 8 years old. My dream was to have like 20 kids, not giving birth to them, and have a big family. I have 1 child now but can barely make enough money to support the two of us. That is my new years resolution for this year is to get financially stable so that in the next year or two I can start fostering. I joined this site to learn more about the children in the system.
Your story has really opened my eyes to another area where I can help. I always mistakenly thought that foster kids were overjoyed at aging out of the system. I thought that they were thrilled to finally be on their own and not have to move from place to place anymore. Wow! How did the thought that you would still want a family of your own never occur to me? And how do you age out of the system without the basic skills needed to take care of yourself? I guess I never figured that some of the foster families may not have taught their children how to do these things.
You have really opened my eyes with your story. Throughout my life I have met many friends that have "adopted" me and made me a part of their family even though not legally. I hope that through your life you will find many people like that as well. Like lettte02 said I am here for you. Feel free to email me anytime you need someone to talk to or have an accomplishment that you would like to share with your family. I also wanted you to know that I am proud of you for your accomplishments and remember you did it all for yourself. That is amazing.

Aeriadel

like
0

FosterClub doesn't have a

FC Steve's picture

FosterClub doesn't have a program like this set up, but I found one @ the Orphan Foundation that sounds alot like what your looking for.

http://orphan.org/index.php?id=9

like
0

we are willing to commit to

Anonymous's picture

we are willing to commit to a monthly care package for a foster care child living on campus. we'd love to be there for him/her.

like
0

I dont know how you feel

Anonymous's picture

I dont know how you feel because I never experienced that but I am proud of you and hope that your life brings you nothing but happiness. You made it into college and you will become what ever you want. You will be blessed in the end. Keep a positive attitude and you will get your reward in life.

like
0

The plight of the "aging

Anonymous's picture

The plight of the "aging out" foster child is something that I can't stop thinking about. I have just joined a group in dallas that helps mentor kids that age out. I want you to know that i understand the odds that you have overcome, and respect you for tremendously. Congratulations on the life that you have made for yourself, and know that you are an inspiration to many with the same issues. Understand that you have a community of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers pulling for you and loving you, and truly believing in you. Thanks for sharing your story.

like
0

i agree foster ppl need help

Anonymous's picture

i agree foster ppl need help

like
0

Hey sweetie, I have a

lette02's picture

Hey sweetie, I have a daughter that is 18 and she doesn't really appreciate the family that she has. If you do not have someone that you can call mom, you may call me mom. I will be your mother. I can't imagine how hard it is being in the world with no one. My husband and I are in the process of trying to adopt a child or children. We feel that we have to help as many children as we can to feel loved and to know that they will have a mom, dad and family that they can call their own. You may email me anytime if you want to. I am so proud of you and your accomplishments. I too pray that God will continue to guide you into the person that He would want you be. Keep up the good work.

like
0

Hi. I truly feel you in

Anonymous's picture

Hi. I truly feel you in reading your story. My husband and I are currently in process of bringing a 17 yr old with mental health issues into our family for life so that she may not experience what you have and she is truly thankful and proud to have a family. I am so proud of you and I do pray you will find all that has been stolen from you in this life. I will let her read your story too.

like
0