I was in the foster care system for 12 years, including 5 years in Michigan, until I was adopted at the age of 17. One of the reasons I was in the system so long was the shortage of families that are willing and able to care for the children who most desperately need families — those of us who are older, part of a sibling group, or have significant emotional or medical needs.
I was placed in several different foster families that were unhealthy or otherwise inappropriate for me. Not surprisingly, they didn’t work out. I also spent time in two group homes. I frequently changed schools, resulting in difficulty progressing in school and maintaining healthy peer relationships. I was separated from my birth sister, who is younger and was adopted by another family that wasn’t interested in adopting me. As a teenager, I knew my chances of ever getting a family of my own were slim.
But I was one of the lucky ones. When I was 16, a couple in East Lansing saw my picture and history on an adoption website and felt a connection to me. They became my parents, and when I was 17, they adopted me. With their support, I’m proud to say that I graduated last Spring from Western Michigan University and am excited about my future.
I love my parents. Still, I wonder whether I might have been spared the years of instability and loss had there been more families out there to care for kids in the foster care system.
It was my experience in foster care and the difficulties faced by so many of us that led me to become an advocate for foster youth. I have been on foster youth advisory boards for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and volunteer as an advocate with FosterClub, an organization that provides support for foster youth across the country.
Doing this work, I get to meet and know many current and former foster youth. Many of them, unlike me, have aged out of the foster care system without ever becoming part of a family. These young people often have to face the challenges of getting through high school or getting into college, landing a job, and finding and paying for a place to live without the guidance of parents.
Given my experience and the experience of my peers and current foster youth, I was horrified to learn that Michigan now permits state-contracted child placement agencies to turn away loving prospective foster and adoptive parents based solely on religious objections to certain kinds of families, specifically, same-sex parent families. It makes no sense to enact policies that make it even more difficult for kids to find the loving and nurturing homes they need. It’s cruel. Kids shouldn’t be deprived of families because some agencies have a religious test for who is qualified to be a parent.
My mom and dad are wonderful people who took in an older teen, even after knowing everything I’d been through. It’s unconscionable that others like them who want to help kids are being turned away simply because they don’t meet an agency’s religious standards. There are so many bright, wonderful youth out there in Michigan who need families just like I did. I know many would love to have two moms or two dads to call their own. I love my family, and I want others to have the same joy of finding a family as I did.
Michigan needs to ensure that children in the foster care system have access to any family that has the ability and willingness to love and care for a child in need. I’m heartened to see the ACLU standing up to challenge Michigan’s discriminatory foster care system in court because allowing religious-based disqualifications of good families must end.