In 1989, at the age of 13 years old, my whole world changed overnight as I was first introduced to the foster care system, along with my older sister. I will not go into what brought us into care, but I will speak of my experiences while in care.
When my sister and I entered into foster care, we were living in Memphis, TN at the time. We were taken in the back of police car to a juvenile detention center. We had done nothing wrong, and had not broken any laws. However, the entire experience made us feel like criminals that we never were. We were only there because our parents made poor choices, and because there was no where else for teens to go. When we arrived, we passed by jail cells and became grossly aware of the toilets in the middle of the cells where anyone could see you going that walked by. Inwardly we cringed at the thought of that being where we were about to be placed. We were taken to a shower room where we had to take off our clothes in front of strangers while they searched our clothes for contraband and made us turn our naked bodies around in front of them to be searched for bruises. Then we had to shower in front of them, and were next handed prison like scrubs and underwear so large we had to tie knots in the sides just to keep them on. Finally, we were taken to a room with a heavy locked door. This room held two beds, and this was to be our home for the next 48 hours. While there, we tried to sleep, but a guard would pass by shining a flashlight through the window of the door every 15 minutes. Our room was also cold, and I think we only had one very thin blanket. I remember getting a leg cramp so bad I was trying not to scream out in pain, and I am grateful my sister helped massage it for me as we feared the scary guard would come in our room.
At the end of our stay there, we went to a temporary group home for about 6 weeks. In this home, my sister and I were the only Caucasian residents. We were not permitted to go to the same school everyone else there went to as we were told we would be shot walking down the hall because we were white. We, therefore, had to, without an adult accompanying us, take two city buses across town to a different school where we were still very much a minority. We have never ridden a city bus before in our life. Imagine our fear when we once got off at the wrong stop, had no clue where we were, and the White Castle we walked into would not let us use their phone to call the group home. Talk about culture shock.
After this, we temporarily went back home for two weeks before the court moved us again. We ended up in a mental hospital for 4 1/2 months, again, not because we needed to be there, but because there were no traditional foster homes for teens. We received very little schooling during this time, and I believe we went 1 1/2 months before we even got to go outside and enjoy some sunshine. I was the youngest and smallest child on our floor, and our hospital stay also came with some very unique experiences with all walks of life and disabilities we encountered. This experience taught me a lot about Autism, Tourettes, and many other disorders.
After the hospital, my sister and I moved to the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, where, again, I was the youngest child in our cottage. I was only there about 3 months before I went to a traditional foster home while my sister stayed behind at the Children's Home. This was our first time ever being separated from one another, and, though I knew my foster home was a much better fit for me, it was still hard being separated from sister. This separation, other than a brief period where my sister also came to stay at my foster home, ended up being a lifetime separation from my sister. After two years in my foster home, I moved back to Missouri just before my 10th grade year to finish out my last two years of high school with my Grandma. My sister and I still stay in touch, but our lives held very different experiences.
I graduated high school in 1994, and I began attending Southeast Missouri State University. Here, I completed a teaching degree, and I met my husband, soon of 23 years, my sophomore year of college. Even prior to college, I felt a calling to become a missionary. I wanted to take my teaching degree and use it to travel overseas to work with and teach children in an orphanage. I never got to fulfill that dream, but I think God had different plans in mind for me.
My husband and I struggled with years of infertility. We finally realized that we were never going to be able to have children of our own, nor did we know how to afford the steep cost of infant adoption. This is where my own experiences in foster care pushed to the forefront. Something deep inside of me kept telling me we should foster.
We first began fostering in 2005 with two brother ages 4 & 6. We loved them very much, and they progressed so much in the few months they were with us. These two boys had three other siblings who were not with us, and we soon realized that the only times the kids were seeing their siblings was when visits were happening with their parents, which were quite inconsistent. The boys ended up being moved due to extreme circumstances that were happening with the bio parents. After that experience, we took a step back and took a long break before reentering the foster care world again in 2016.
Again, we ran into situations where siblings were not staying connected unless there were visits, or where visits were not happening due to lack of a supervisor. We also noticed that individuals were being approved to supervise visits that were only approved for the sake of the visit happening, but did not hold the children's best interest.
All of these experiences sent the gears in my head turning. I realized that God had a bigger purpose for my life beyond fostering. I realized that mission work did not have to be overseas, and that it, in fact, starts right here at our own front door. I no longer wanted to see siblings kept separated from another, even if they could not, for various reasons, live together. I also did not want to see parents forced to pay $45-$50/hr (going rate for visits) for the right to see their children, or, worse yet, not have a visit at all due to a lack of resources.
From all of this, All For Family was born. Out of darkness comes light, and out of despair comes something great. All For Family recruits volunteers to supervise family visits so that no parents has to go without seeing their children due to lack of resources, and so no child has to go without seeing their siblings because there is no visit.
Knowing the pain and confusion first hand of being separated from my own sibling is also why I dream of starting an indoor playground. I just want a place siblings can stay connected and just be the kids they were meant to be without their time together being centered around whatever pain their parents may have caused.
In Paul Harvey's famous words: "And now you know the rest of the story".