Imagine being a child with no place to call home, no family and no stability.
A small group of former foster children, now thriving adults and successful women, bravely sat united to share their tales with a room full of social workers and other former foster kids at a recent talk at University of Penn Law School to debut videographer Yasmin Mistry’s “Foster Care Film.” The documentary delves into the emotional psyche of some of the former foster women in short video stories.
"Some homes were OK, but many were not," said Charell Star, the New York-based owner of lifestyle website Not Just A Girl In A Dress and foster care advocate, who went into foster care because her mom had drug problems and her dad was in and out of prison. "I did experience abuse, but was always able to maintain the hope that I would get to go live with my great-grandmother when she got better. That hope — coupled with the fact that I always loved school — helped me not internalize everything I was going through.”
Mirroring the helping hand she got from “some amazing teachers,”Star received an academic scholarship to go to boarding school in Arizona and went to college at Boston University and the rest is foster history.
"My dad was addicted to heroin and sold drugs and my mother suffers from mental health issues,” said Marissa Meyers, now a development manager for the non-profit Public Health Management Corporation. "I was in the child welfare system from the time I was a toddler up until I was 16. I never had a real foster family and was shuffled around to group homes and residential programs."
It is common for youth who have experienced trauma to disassociate from their past as a survival technique, Meyers said.
“I spent the first half of my life learning how to numb to the pain and I am now trying to teach myself how to ‘feel,’" she said. "I tell my story as if it happened to someone else because that was how I coped with my trauma.”
A common thread is a family history of drug, mental and behavioral problems.
“I entered foster care at 11— a tough age for one that has experienced trauma and separation," said Constance Krebs Iannetta, now board of directors for Foster Care Alumni of America. “ I spent the next few years in group homes and with foster families. Though my placements were generally good, I was always challenging the rules set forth by the agency — 9 p.m. prom curfew, not allowed to get a drivers permit/license, background checks needed for overnight stays at a friends house. I wanted to be a ‘normal’ kid.”
Ianetta credited her success by an independent living worker who after she aged out of foster care, helped bring her into life skills training for other foster kids through the Pennsylvania Youth Advisory Board.
She now lives in stark contrast to the chaos she grew up with and is happily married to the love of her life with two foster children of their own.
“As a third generation foster kid, the odds were not in my favor - yet here I am, breaking the cycle and foster strong,” she said.
Now she is dedicated to helping other foster kids find their footing in life.
“My drive to help children has been instrumental to my resilience and overcoming the pain of my past. It has been my dream to help abused and neglected children since I was 12 years old and that continues to be my dream at 27,” Meyers said. "Even on my darkest days, I remember my purpose in life is to change not just ‘the system,’ but our system."