Monday, August 17, 2009

Growing Up in the Care of Strangers

The Experiences, Insights and Recommendations of Eleven Former Foster Kids -

"This book is a must read for all persons charged with the responsibility of ensuring 'the best interests' of children in the foster care system. The stories provide valuable insights that can form the basis of a much-needed restructuring of the child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems. The question is, will the 'experts' have the courage to listen and act on this information?"

Judge Ernestine Gray, Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, New Orleans, Louisiana,

current President of the National CASA Board of Trustees and past President of the

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

"The heart-rending and heart-warming stories in this sensitive book truly depict the tumult of the foster care experience and are a call to action for change. The authors provide an opportunity to envision success in the youth we serve, and as such, their revelations are a welcome addition to the literature of foster care."

Eileen McCaffrey, Executive Director, Orphan Foundation of America

"This book is the opus of the resilience movement, penned by talented researchers and practitioners who overcame turbulent childhoods. The authors are the ultimate experts on reclaiming troubled children - they speak with the moral authority of having experienced both sides of the helping relationship. These powerful insights must be the centerpiece of all credible 'person-centered' and 'evidence-based' practice and policy."

Larry K. Brendtro, Ph.D., President of the Circle of Courage Institute;

Co-author of Deep Brain Learning: Pathways to Potential with Challenging Youth;

Founder Reclaiming Youth International and Executive Editor, Reclaiming Children and Youth

"These real life experiences serve as a sobering reminder of the work that remains to be done to ensure children brought into the child welfare system are not only safer, but loved and nurtured so they can reach their potential. The book and its authors are an excellent resource for policy makers and advocates who want to develop policy policy based on successful outcomes rather than system failures."

Angela H. Orkin, CEO, The Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation

"Recounting in detail the abuse, neglect and loss experienced in their own lives, eleven diverse adults who have lived in foster care, residential care, and kinship care share reflections that will challenge and inspire clinicians, students, and policy makers. The writers' ability to describe and reflect upon the pain, trials, and harm that they each suffered is courageous. Sharing their stories is an act of generosity and hopefulness.

Dr. Gary R. Anderson, Professor and Director of the School of Social Work,

Michigan State University, and Editor, Child Welfare


  1. As a author of this great book, I recommend it to all of my friends and family. Please order a copy today!

  2. The Supreme Court of Michigan bought 441 copies of the book to train all of the county DHS directors, all of the prosecuting attorneys' offices, all of the family court judges, all of the members of the Governor's Task Force on Children's Justice and the 12 federally recognized tribal social services directors in Michigan.

  3. I discovered a wonderful web site the other day,, subtitled "inspiration and information from graduates of the system." This attractive and informative website was designed and is maintained by Jennifer Flamini, a former foster child. Each month, Jennifer highlights a foster care graduate, including her or his picture and biography. On the front page of her web site, Jennifer states: "Overcoming the adversities of life in foster care is something that should be celebrated, featured, respected and shared! Join me in this campaign to change the general public's perception of us and give foster care children heroes to look up to." It is heartening to find other former foster children pursuing the mission we all share, to improve the foster care experience and safeguard the lives of foster children. Well done, Jennifer!

  4. Congratulations to LaTasha Watts for her new web site LaTasha is another former foster kid using her experience, talent and desire to improve the foster care system and provide role models for kids currently in the foster care system. The Purple Project is a social networking site that I encourage all followers of this blog to join. The more current and former foster children who join leaders like LaTasha Watts and Jennifer Flamini by joining and spreading the word about their web sites, the stronger our individual voices grow, leading to a collective voice that cannot be denied by a system desperately in need of reform! Thank you, LaTasha!

    1. Thank you for sharing this information. I have been looking for some type of support for former foster kids. This really helps! Thanks again!!

  5. We are Michigan State University are working hard to make sure students who come to us from foster care are able to transition successfully from high school to college in a way that they feel supported- from the time they enroll til they graduate. See our website at

    Additional resources:

    We at Michigan's Children believe in fostering leadership of foster care alumni who attend MSU. She video produced by one of our students that captures the 2009 foster child summer camp.

  6. Check out the wonderful book review from Youth Today, "the newspaper on youth work":

    Growing Up in the Care of Strangers: The Experiences, Insights and Recommendations of Eleven Former Foster Kids (November 1, 2009) by Cathi MacRae

    Edited by Waln K. Brown and John R. Seita
    William Gladden Foundation Press
    192 pages. $27.95.

    It's a "lofty goal" to protect the best interests of a child when parents cannot do so, say the editors of this riveting collection of personal accounts of 11 alumni of America's child welfare system. But when so many children "leave care just as damaged and at risk" as when the court decided they needed safeguarding, the system that can fulfill a caring parent's role has yet to be invented.

    Ranging in age from mid-20s to late 60s, white, black, male and female contributors are college-educated professionals who each survived multiple child welfare placements. All are now committed to helping other such children. All have worked with children in care, trained children's services professionals or taught students of social work, administered placement programs or researched youth at risk.

    The contributors' paths were no less rocky than those of other foster children. What worked in their lives within the system? Each singles out the one person or group that helped them beat the odds.

    Editor Waln Brown's own account, "Confessions of an Ex-Juvenile Delinquent," describes his parents' corrosive fighting and his father's disappearance. When Brown joined a gang in seventh grade, his mother placed him in an orphanage, starting his downward spiral through juvenile detention, a state psychiatric hospital and a reform school. Brown named his foundation, which published this book, after that school's director.

    Editor John Seita also had an absent father and an abusive mother. When he was 8 years old, the court removed him from his home. In the next 11 years, he moved 15 times, through multiple foster homes to group homes, orphanages and detention, seeing himself as "worthless human garbage." Many of the system's problems, Seita concludes, occur because its leaders have never been "consumers of its services and seldom do they seek guidance and input from their clients."

    Dr. Debraha Watson, who endured years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse as an orphan in several foster homes, believes it's up to foster care workers to change what she calls a "heartless system." Her prescription for change? Keep siblings together; screen, monitor, and train foster families carefully; monitor children's progress and cries for help; advocate on foster children's behalf "as you would your own children"; avoid multiple placements; and find a "holistic approach" to aging out.

    "Foster care professionals must learn to listen to the voices of foster children, both present and past," says Rosalind Folman, whose story closes the book. "We know what hurts us and what helps us."

    Folman said she became "a dead child walking" through years of emotional neglect under kinship care, a current favorite of child welfare experts. Through her own experience in an orphanage, Folman makes a strong case that a well-run institutional home is superior to living in such kinship care.

    All contributors to this collection believe that the advice and insight of adults who grew up in the system must be considered when making policy, along with the voices of the young now engulfed in the system.

    The editors note that placement also "takes a toll ... on the professionals charged" with children's care. They offer this book as feedback from fellow professionals-cum-survivors to all involved in child welfare: "judges, policymakers, administrators, probation officers, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, caseworkers, social workers, foster parents, house parents, guardians ad litem, CASA volunteers, child welfare advocates, educators and program staff."

    As trained adult professionals who were once part of the system, they now are hoping to help fix it. (850) 668-8574,

    1. It is interesting to me that in high school, while in care, I wrote a paper entitled "Bring Back Orphanages." I can totally relate to how a well-run institution could be more comfortable or livable than being "the elephant in the room," or "the local alien," at a family run foster home.

  7. Tanisha Cunningham, a foster care alumnus, has put together a beautiful blog at

  8. LaTasha Watts is at it again! She added a new blog and new Web site to her growing list of Internet projects written for foster care alumni, including Check them out at: & www.latashacwatts/