What Separates Success from Statistics in Foster Care?

The year I turned 18, I was in danger of becoming a statistic. As one of more than 23,000 youth who age out of foster care in the U.S. every year, the outlook for my future was bleak. Aging out is nothing to celebrate for kids like me. Ready or not, these teenagers are legally emancipated when they turn 18. Adulthood inevitably strips them of whatever security, safety and assistance the foster care system provides.  

The Odds

Many of these new adults instantly become homeless. Without the support, guidance and preparation most teens receive from their parents, these kids enter the world with the odds already stacked against them.

  • 25% won’t graduate high school.
  • 50% will develop a substance abuse dependence.
  • 70% of young women will become pregnant before age 21.
  • 3% of kids who age out will earn a college degree.

Such grim statistics are shocking and may leave you wondering how so many children end up in such devastating situations. A little of my own backstory might be helpful here. Remember that each child’s story is unique, but I think mine has a common thread found in many.

The Cause

My dad was a frightening man, and throughout my childhood, he abused me in a myriad of ways. It all began at about age two when he entered our family through marriage to my mom. He intimidated me from the get-go, and fear clutched my heart each day when his motorcycle entered our gravel driveway. My mind would begin to wonder what I would be punished for and what would be his weapon of choice on that particular day. Would it be the pink hairbrush that I accidentally left on the bathroom counter that my skull would be beaten with tonight?

Or would tonight be another one of those nights when he crept into my bedroom and did unspeakable things to my little body?

I endured this for ten years before telling an older sibling who got the police got involved. I landed in foster care after running away and making a serious suicide attempt.

I was a big, hot mess as an adolescent. With a dad who beat and raped you daily, why wouldn’t you struggle in school or turn to drugs for escape or fall victim to one of the many traps that ensnare so many of the kids like me as they age out of foster care?

So how did I beat the odds? How did I not only graduate high school but college too? And how did I not only did I earn a bachelor's degree but also graduate Summa cum laude? I avoided drug addiction and only got pregnant after meeting and marrying the love of my life. How?

Am I more resilient than most? No, I don’t think so. I think my story more closely resembles the wise saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I very well could have suffered a similar fate as many who came before and after me through the foster care system but for God’s mercy. From His Church, two people after God’s own heart stepped forward in obedience to His Word.  

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27  

The Catalyst

Rich and Ruth were an older couple with mostly grown children. They took me into their home and family as a very troubled 15-year-old girl. They showered me with unconditional love, introduced me to Jesus and taught me practical life skills.

As a parent myself now, I can think of plenty of excuses not to do what they did. Half of Rich’s body was paralyzed from a major car accident years earlier. They lived on a modest income provided by Ruth, who was a small private school teacher. And I was no golden child. I was promiscuous. I drank alcohol. I smoked - not exactly the type of influence most godly parents want their teenaged sons to be exposed to daily.  

But God, who is rich in mercy, had a plan for my life. He revealed to Rich and Ruth how light overcomes darkness, not the other way around. And He used their obedience to completely alter the trajectory of my future.

The Result

What did they do specifically to set me up for success as I aged out of foster care? The very same things that they had done for their three biological children. They helped me get my first job at McDonald’s, teaching me how to fill out an application, interview, show up on time, respect my bosses, fill out timecards, etc. Ruth taught me to drive and helped me to get my license, which was essential to getting to school and work. Rich helped me open a bank account, make deposits and learn to save for my future. These simple things and many more like them gave me the leg up that I needed to thrive as a young adult.  

They taught me that I wasn’t alone in the world and that I could reach back out to them and to ask for help. They provided a safe place of belonging in this great big world. I was wanted in their family, and they would go to any length to prove it. They taught me what marriage looks like and how a family can depend upon each other. I tested this mightily, but it turned out to be tried and true for them. They relied upon God’s strength in those trying times.

What this one couple did for me at such a critical time in my life reminds me of the starfish story. I was one of thousands of children stranded and struggling for my life. Rich and Ruth didn’t look at the thousands and see a hopeless cause. They saw the one and chose to act, changing my entire life by doing so.  

How do we make a difference for the 23,000 children who age out of the foster care system each year? We do what Rich and Ruth did for me – we choose to care for one at a time. We say yes to foster care and yes to obedience to God’s Word. We bring them into our homes and our families and teach them what they need to know - that they are valuable, they belong, they are loved and they have a future.

Changing even one child’s life is no small act, especially to that child.  

Read Tricia’s full story.

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Tricia Collins

Tricia was a former youth in foster care and an adoptee. These experiences have made her a powerful voice for the voiceless. Her passion is to mobilize the church in its pivotal role of redemption of the fatherless.