Imagine waking up at 6 years old and being taken from your home. You have no idea when you will see your siblings again. You're brought to live with people you don't know. Are these people your mom and dad now? Are you going to a new school? What about your friends? Will you ever see them again?
Each year, 800,000 kids who suffer this uprooting experience spend time in foster care.
Abuse and neglect are the main reasons children enter foster care. Some will return to their families, others will be adopted, and others will remain in the system. Each year 25,000 kids age out of the system at 18.
Without a family or support from the government, less than 50 percent of aged-out youth graduate high school. A quarter become homeless within two to four years. Only 2 percent go on to earn bachelor’s degrees.
Into that void come organizations like Foster Club—a national network that foster youth can link to for advice, information, and hope. Each year, Foster Club chooses all-star foster youth to represent the organization. These kids have been through a lot, but are resilient and determined to build a better future for themselves and other kids in foster care.
In celebration of National Foster Care Month, TakePart caught up with four of the all-stars. Here are their stories.
Tobias Rogan. Photo: Tobias Rogan
20 years old
7 years in Michigan’s foster care system
At a young age, Tobias Rogan knew he was gay. He also knew that homosexuality was not accepted in his family.
After he came out, rejection and nearly a year of controversial reparative therapy meant to “transform” him into a heterosexual followed.
“It doesn’t work," Rogan says. "Being gay is not a choice.” Because his sexuality did not change, he says, “My family had another meeting and they kicked me out. I was 12 years old.”
From the age of 12 to 13, Rogan was homeless. “I lived in abandoned buildings. I couch-hopped. I had to grow up really fast.” Eventually, a teacher found him living under a bridge. Unable to return to his family, Tobias entered the foster care system.
“I had a lot of good and bad experiences in foster care,” Rogan says. Two gay dads wanted to adopt him. Unfortunately, in many states, gay couples can legally foster but not legally adopt. "If they can financially and emotionally support a youth in foster care, so be it," Rogan says. "I don’t care if it’s two women or two men who love me; it's love and there shouldn’t be a face to love.”
After what Rogan had been through, he and his social workers felt that independent living was the right choice for him. At 16 he moved into his own apartment. His life at that time was about studying hard and juggling jobs to pay for rent. He aged out of the system at 18. Somehow, through all of this, Rogan kept a positive outlook on life.
Today Rogan is attending Western Michigan University. He says, “When I got to college, I learned so much about what I have to offer.” Majoring in film and media studies and social work, Rogan hopes to utilize the media to advocate for foster care youth. He chose this path he says, "because my heart is in it."
Kita Anderson. Photo: Tobias Rogan
22 years old
4 years in Colorado’s foster care system
When Kita Anderson was 5 years old, she and her siblings were removed from their home due to severe neglect. Her younger brother suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and went into one foster home. Kita and her younger sister went into another. Her older sisters were taken by their biological father.
That's a lot of family trauma for a 5-year-old. Luckily, Kita entered a foster home where she could breath easy—for a while. “With my foster parents, I could be a real kid," she says. "I could lean on them and be my real self.” Anderson and her sister stayed in this foster home for two years, but the couple wasn’t ready to adopt. “When I left,” she says, “I didn’t understand. I thought they didn’t love me anymore.”
After she left, she was adopted by a single mother and lived with her for eight years. This was home for Anderson until one day her adoptive mother said, “I’m not a good mom for you anymore and you need to leave.” Anderson describes this as being "like whiplash." She later found out that her mom was schizophrenic, and it was in her best interest to move out. From there, she moved back in with her first foster family and then into a group home.
When she was a senior in high school, Anderson received a call from her caseworker saying that her older sister wanted to contact her. They'd had no communication since being torn apart as children. Although she was scared, Anderson flew to meet her sister in San Francisco. Today they have a strong and loving relationship.
At 18, Anderson aged out of foster care. But with the support of her first foster parents and her older sister, she earned scholarships to college and recently graduated from the University of San Francisco. In the fall, she heads to Columbia University for a masters degree in social work and hopes to work with foster youth. After all the ups and downs, Anderson is closer than ever with her first foster parents. She says, “Knowing they’re there for me and will always be there is a dream.”
Tasha Santos. Photo: Tobias Rogan
22 years old
7 years in New York’s foster care system
When Tasha Santos was nine years old, she and her six siblings were put into foster care. Her biological mother was charged with neglect and soon after had her parental rights terminated.
Each of her six siblings was eventually placed in a different foster home. Santos says, “My siblings had gone through it with me. To lose them for so long was really hard.”
Santos spent time in several foster homes and says, “A lot of them were abusive. They were like the stereotypical foster parents you see in the movies who take kids in for money.”
Finally, when she was 13, she moved in with a family from Jamaica. At first, it was hard for Santos to get to know them. She says, “It’s difficult when you’ve been to different foster homes and adults haven’t been the easiest people to trust.” Her family was understanding. About a year into living together, they all knew it was a good fit.
The adoption process took a few years, but by the time she was 16, Santos had what she calls a “forever” family. She says of her adoptive mother, “Out of all the people I could have been placed with and all the kids she could have adopted, somehow we found each other.”
Today Santos has relationships with most of her biological siblings and attends La Guardia Community College in New York City. She is interested in becoming a journalist and hopes to let kids in foster care know that “there are people rooting for them…I root for all of them. I really do every day. I just know that it’s possible to have a happy ending.”
Jeremy Long. Photo: Courtesy Jeremy Long
21 years old
5 years in Colorado’s foster care system
Jeremy Long’s parents divorced when he was 4; at the age of 5 he was kidnapped by his father. Two years of physical and emotional abuse later, his father returned Long to his biological mother.
At first, things seemed good with his mother, but she quickly spiraled into alcoholism and prostitution. Long says, “I remember specifically on my 12th birthday we were actually living with one of my sisters. My mom was unstable and couldn’t pay rent; so we moved in with her. On my 12th birthday, she hopped into a truck with a random trucker and moved to California.”
When Jeremy entered the foster care system, he finally learned what it was like to live in a loving family. He was his adoptive mother’s first foster child, and she was his first foster parent. “I don’t want to say it was love at first sight," he says, "but that’s how it was. We realized we had a lot of the same interests and goals in life. That’s how I ended up in her care.”
Currently, Jeremy and his foster mother are finalizing the adoption papers. As far as Jeremy is concerned, she is and always will be his mother. With her support, Jeremy just graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and is about to start an internship in Washington D.C. with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. He will be working on the foster care caucus and says of the foster care system, “Clearly any system has its flaws, but the foster care system needs to realize that one fix doesn’t fix the entire system. There are so many different aspects to it, and there are so many different youth with different needs. They’ve done a great job, but a lot of work still needs to be done.”