Did you know that fewer than 50% of all high school aged foster children in the United States will graduate from high school? And only 3% of those kids will graduate from college with their Bachelors Degree?
I was never in foster care, but I should have been. I was abused and neglected from age 7 into adulthood, but no one did anything about it. I remained in the family home, and did my best - on my own instincts - to get through school. Never once did a grown-up encourage me to do my homework, study, apply myself, take the ACT, or apply for college or college financial aid. I didn't ask for help at school because I was afraid I'd have to explain why I needed their help. I also never wanted to stand out as an excellent student, because I didn't want to be noticed. So, I gladly slipped through high school without a single college credit and report cards full of B's and C's - well below my abilities. I never studied for the ACT and never even looked at my ACT results. I applied only to the nearest community college where I dropped out with a not-so-stellar GPA.
You see... This is where I compare myself to a foster child. I'd moved out of my mother's home after graduating from high school. I was suddenly on my own - no support, no experience, no one giving me advice or encouraging me, but also no one abusing me (at least not physically). I worked full time to pay the rent, and went to school full time. I still longed for my family, so I kept in touch with them often. My mother was constantly criticizing, insulting and blaming me for her rotten life. Every phone call ended with her unkind words followed by her slamming the phone down. I'd call again a day or so later for more of the same. Between my jobs, my relationship with my family, and trying to wash my sorrows away in bars, I was distracted from my academics to say the least.
I applied for financial aid that first semester and did not qualify because I had to include my parents' income due to my "minor dependent" status on their income tax return. Never mind that I was not dependent on them. Today there are ways around this - exceptions can be made for abuse survivors, emancipated children, etc. Even if the government turns down your request for aid, the school has discretion to appeal on your behalf if you have extenuating circumstances! I don't know if these exceptions existed in the early 90's, but I do know that I would never have asked for them if they did. I did not want people knowing what trash I was. At least that's how I thought of me - trash.
Flash forward all these years and I know that the abuse was no reflection on me, but had everything to do with them.
I also now regret nearly every decision I made regarding my education. I wish I would have studied harder. I wish I would have asked for help. I wish I would have had the courage and confidence to pay attention at those college fairs at my high school. I wish I would have allowed myself to dream bigger and believe that dreams can come true. I wish I would have known that my youth was only the beginning, and that my future was up to me.
The sky is the limit, not our abuse. Abuse survivors - and foster children - are capable of absolutely anything. We are not limited by what someone else did to us.
I am writing this with my younger readers in mind. Don't blow the immediate opportunities that you are offered to move beyond the tragic circumstances in your life. Don't wait years for a do-over, when you've got the chance right now to right the wrongs.
I'm getting my academic do-over right now. Going back to college, having to do some maintenance to my damaged GPA, balancing life as wife and mother with a full course load at college, marveling at the options you have in terms of financial aid that are no longer available to me. I can't help but smile when I reflect back over my life and see how far I've come, but that doesn't stop me from praying that each of you younger girls will not follow my exact (time, energy and emotion wasting) path. I pray for earlier healing and success for you!
Girl Thrive is an amazing organization created with teen girls in mind. Dr. Patti has occasionally visited this blog and even sent me two free copies of her book Invisible Girls. If you are a teen girl whose life has been shattered by incest, Dr. Patti is here for you. If you cannot afford to buy her book, send me an email and I'll mail you one of my copies - firstname.lastname@example.org. But one of the greatest things that Girl Thrive provides is college scholarships to girls age 24 and under who are incest survivors. Check out her website for more information! There is a wonderful life awaiting each and every one of us.
"The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." John 10:10