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There’s life after aging out of foster care

Young people face an uphill climb when they age out of foster care without a family. But don’t underestimate their drive and their dreams.

January 21, 2022 | Interview with Brittney Turner, who aged out of foster care at 20

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Each year in the U.S., more than 20,000 young adults age out of foster care without a family. The transition to adulthood is hard enough, but with added challenges like trauma and instability, it becomes even harder for youth to successfully navigate this path on their own.

Brittney’s story highlights the need for caring adults to become mentors and provide permanent homes for teens in foster care. She’s living proof that young people can make it, but they really deserve to have a family on their side. See a video of her story below.

I was born in Flint, Michigan, where I lived with my mom, my twin sister, and two younger sisters. There was a lot of instability. I think we stayed in every shelter in Flint. Then we moved to Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Detroit, and back to Flint. With each new city came new friends for us and new drugs for my mom.

And when I was 10, my life completely changed—I went into foster care.

The best way to describe what foster care feels like is turbulence. When you’re in a plane, taking off in a storm, the captain says, “It’s going to be bumpy. There’s going to be some turbulence, but hold on—it’s going to be OK.” But you don’t know it’s going to be OK when you’re going through it.

A bumpy ride

When you’re 10, whether your home environment is good or bad, it’s still your home. So when you’re snatched out of the only home you know, you have so many emotions. You’re like, What’s going on? Where’s my mom? Where are my siblings? You’re scared, confused, and angry.

When you move around in foster care, they give you a black trash bag, and you put whatever you can in the bag—clothes, journals, stuffed animals. There was no suitcase. There was nothing to hold onto throughout my journey in foster care. Everything was just black trash bags.

For that first six or seven years, I didn’t know I was going to be OK. It took that long to gather any sense of hope that there was going to be a foster home for me and maybe a potential forever home. I think once I got the hang of it—like, This is going to be my life—somewhere inside I realized, This IS going to be a bumpy ride, and now I need to figure out how I’m going to hold on.

Sink or swim

Over my 10 years in foster care, I had some good foster homes and some bad. The last and the longest foster home I was in was the Brisbys. Officer Brisby had been my D.A.R.E. teacher in fifth grade. Imagine learning about drugs at school while all of it was going on at home! And when I was 15, she became my foster mom.

The Brisbys were my favorite foster home. I had two parents who were both police officers. But even with them working full time, they still had time to show me what love looks like. My first day of 10th grade was rough. I remember other kids talking about me and just feeling like I didn’t belong. I came home, got in my bed, and cried. They both came in the room to see what was wrong. In that moment—when I could tell them what I was feeling and have them comfort me—they weren’t just foster parents but parents to me.

I was 20 and a student at Rochester College when I aged out of foster care. I’d met new friends at school and made some good memories. And I’d think, I can do this on my own. But when I was alone, that’s when I had time to really think. I spent a lot of time in my dorm crying, writing poetry, and feeling depressed. I had moments where I just didn’t want to live anymore. I was out of foster care, but I didn’t have a family. Holidays would come, and where would I go?

Even though the Brisbys had an open door for me, I didn’t want to go backward. I wanted to find my own family, my own place to belong. It felt like sink or swim, and I didn’t know how to swim out here in this world. It felt like my survival was up to me, so I was like, OK, I’m out of here. Let’s figure out life.

Keep going

I hadn’t kept up with therapy, and I wasn’t focused on school. I wanted to reconnect with my mom, my twin who had been adopted, and my other sisters. When I had an opportunity to stay with some biological family members in Dallas, I packed my suitcase and thought that’s where I would stay. But Dallas wasn’t the answer. It’s hard to accept that it’s not always healthy to reconnect, and it’s painful to feel rejected because of the way you grew up in the system. I had to figure out what to do next.

I had dreamed about living in Atlanta since fifth grade, before I knew I was going to be in foster care. So when I got an opportunity to go, I got on a plane and went to Georgia with my suitcase. And I was like, Alright. We’re gonna figure this thing out. And I think that’s when God started to work on me. The layers started to get peeled. It was painful, but I kept going.

Journaling, like oxygen, had kept me breathing throughout my journey in foster care. I couldn’t start or end my day without writing, whether it was a poem, something about my day, or just writing, “I’m angry.” My journal is where I wrote out my emotions. I had always dreamed of writing a book, and I kept writing in Atlanta, finally publishing my story, A Suitcase and a Dream, in 2019.

Keep dreaming

I have so many more dreams to fulfill. God has placed mentors in my life and friends who have become my family, giving me so much love and support to keep going. I got married in 2021, and in 2022, after 11 years, I’ll complete my bachelor’s degree in social work. That in itself is a dream because only 3% of foster kids have that opportunity. And I’m determined to reach that goal and be the first in my family to graduate from college.

I’m driven to make sure kids like me know foster care is not the end of their story. I want them to know they can dream. No matter their circumstances—whether they return home, find an adoptive family, or age out like I did—they can do whatever they want to do.

And I’m living proof. My dreams are happening every day, unfolding right before my eyes.

Older children in foster care need you now.