No matter the circumstance, placing a child in foster care can have a major impact on the rest of their lives. It's not easy to imagine the feeling of being separated from your parents, siblings, families, and friends. The things they experience during the care of a foster home or group home will always serve as a reminder of feeling left out, unwanted, or neglected.
People in the following stories know that type of experience all too well, as they explained on Reddit. Each of the following stories offer a brief look into the lives of foster children. All posts have been edited for clarity.
"When I was 6 years old, my 9-year-old brother, 5-year-old sister, and I were taken from my mother and father, who were dealing out of our house. It was my brother's birthday and we all woke up to our house being raided. I witnessed with my own eyes cops tearing apart my brother's birthday cake my mom had made as they were looking for their stash.
Eventually, they gathered the three of us in our bedroom and a social worker was there and gave us some stuffed animals. I still have mine, 20 years later.
I have such a clear and vivid memory of laying on my bed, looking up at the ceiling, informing one of the cops exactly how the daddy long legs on my ceiling catch and eat other bugs. Looking back on it, I'm sure his heart was breaking more than mine. That job has to be hard, to try to distract some kids while you arrest their parents in the other room.
The three of us somehow miraculously (and it really is a miracle) stayed together through the foster care system. We moved to like four or five different houses within a few months. Some were nice, some terrible.
My grandmother on my mother's side and her sister were fighting constantly to get us out of the foster system and finally succeeded by becoming foster parents themselves. I lived out the remainder of my childhood alongside my brother and sister with them and am so thankful we were never split up."
"I was in foster care from the age of 3-months until I was 12 years old.
I was in 28 homes in those 12 years; bounced around constantly. In some of those homes, I was locked up for weeks at a time, went to the bathroom in coffee cans, fed every couple of days, and had to do forced labor such as cleaning, wood cutting, and hauling. Basically, I was a servant.
I was beaten with boards and horse whips (I have scars from that) and shocked with cattle prods. I received constant psychological abuse and was even threatened with needles. I was forced as a 7-year-old child old to sleep in the bathtub for six months. This was the State of Utah Foster Care system during the '70s. I wouldn't wish foster care on anyone."
"I'm 16 and I've been in and out of foster care since I was around 6-years-old. I'm still not fully adopted, but that's being worked out. I'll start from the beginning.
When I was very little, I lived with both my parents. I don't remember my dad beating my mom, but my sister, who's a little older, told me she saw. She even said that my dad pointed a loaded piece at mom's head once. She divorced him when I was 3-years-old, so I lived with my mother one year and my dad the next.
My mother relapsed back into drinking all the time. I lived with my father for a year until he was convicted of domestic violence against my stepmother. My mom was in jail for god knows what. After that, I bounced around foster homes for a while until my cousin took my sister and I in to live in rural Kentucky.
We lived there for a year until the courts allowed me to stay with my mother. She saved enough money so we could move to an apartment in Louisville. I hated that place. My mother would drink and do illegal substances all the time and I knew it. I didn't have the social skills or balls at the time to stand up against her. My sister took care of me and was pretty much my mother.
After a while, mom was caught and we went to live with some family friends. They kicked us out because I was a problem child, which really meant that their son would beat me up. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old at this point. I was always the new kid and went to seven different elementary schools. I went to live with an ex-nun for two years. I didn't like her, but I liked hanging out with the neighbor kids so I guess it was alright.
My aunt and uncle were interested in taking us and we eventually moved in. They were extremely wealthy and blew money like nothing. They bought me a $4,000 gaming computer for an 11-year-old. They were trying to buy my love. What was ridiculous was that within the first month, they told us we would get kicked out because we didn't say 'please' and 'thank you' enough. They eventually kicked me out and not my sister, mostly because they found out I watched adult videos on the computer they bought me.
I remember when they called social services to pick me up I was begging and pleading to stay with them. I moved back to the ex-nun for a while. After that, I didn't care about anything anymore. I shoplifted and stole. One day when I was being nagged about something stupid, the nun started hitting me. I retaliated and punched her in the face and broke her glasses. The state gave me a mental health evaluation because of that, but I didn't have anything.
I was kicked out of there and moved with my current foster parents. That was about four years ago and now they are trying to terminate the rights of my biological parents so I can be adopted. Two things that this experience has done to me is that it almost physically hurts for me to say I love someone, and I also don't trust people very easily. The only good thing is that the state of Kentucky will pay for my college tuition because I was a ward of the state. Overall, right now I'm the happiest I've been in my life."
"I was in and out of foster care and group homes from age 12 until I was 17.
At 12-years-old, I was sent to a group home. There were two 'houses' on the property. The lower house was where I stayed for around three months, and was for troubled youth/court-ordered kids, mostly gang members and runaways or substance users. The top house was for offenders, and ranged in age from 10 up to 18. Things weren't so bad there, now that I remember it as an adult. The food was decent, activities were scheduled, and the staff was mostly interested in helping turn our lives around. I ran away after four months because I was a little cuss that couldn't follow rules. I do recall that the offender house always looked dark and scary, and we rarely saw those kids outside in groups of more than two or three, so not sure what went on up there.
After running away from there and getting picked up, they placed me in a foster home in a really crappy part of south Seattle. Rainier Avenue was a pretty hot area back then. I'm pretty sure I was the only white kid within a 10-mile radius. I remember the older woman that ran the foster home they placed me in had a nice house. The upstairs was clean and well decorated. I remember thinking when I first arrived that, hey, this may not be so bad.
As soon as the caseworker left, things changed. I was led downstairs into her basement which she'd converted to housing for 'at-risk youth.' It was damp, dreary, no windows that I recall aside from one or two of those long narrow windows you see in basements. There were three rooms, each had two or three sets of bunk beds in them. It smelled like pee. I sat on my bunk and cried.
I was there for a few hours when some of the other kids starting filtering in from school. Most were decent enough, just typical 13 to 18-year-old kids from a crappy life. But there was one, who was bunked in the same room as me, that gave off a messed up vibe from the start. Later that night, he ended up showing me his junk and tried pinning me in the corner wanting me to 'look at it.' I grabbed my garbage bag of belongings and booked it from there, running away again. I spent three days and nights wandering around south Seattle, sleeping at Seward Park and in bus shelters until finally I called my grandma and she came and got me. I lived with her for a year or two before the rules became too much for me to follow and I ran away again.
The next place I lived was a group home out in the middle of freaking nowhere. It was really like a work camp, as there was no schooling happening, the meals were crap, and there were no activities besides labor. It was on a farm near the Green River, and we were expected to do chores pretty much all day: mucking stalls, bucking hay, typical type of farm labor stuff. The staff was hard and didn't care about the kids, as most of us were 'hardened criminals' at that point. I stayed there for maybe six months before running away. I remember the road it was on was like six miles long before you got anywhere near a town, and I walked it at night, hiding in bushes and trees anytime a car would pass, thinking it was them looking for me.
The last place I was placed in was back in south Seattle on Rainier Avenue. The guy who ran the house was actually really freaking cool and was partly responsible for me turning my life around. He had a split-level house, the bottom was his and the top was ours. There were three other kids living there when I got there. We were all 15 to 18 years old and from various backgrounds, but all pretty similar to mine -- runaways, troubled youth, gang members, etc. The owner of the house had some ground rules, essentially: 'You are responsible for yourself. You will maintain my house as if it was your own. You don't steal from me or anyone in the house, etc.' We had our own kitchen and all that, so he would stock our fridge once a week or so, but other than that we didn't see him unless we needed his help with something. I stayed there until I was 17 when I finally went out on my own and the state discharged me as a ward of the court.
So, what was it like? It was terrifying, depressing, reinforcing the feeling that you don't belong or are a burden, mismanaged, rife with offenders and predators, mostly run by adults that couldn't get a better job with their psych degrees or people abusing the Welfare/Foster Care system for their financial gain."
"It was a long, unnecessarily drawn-out process that inflicted more damage on me as a child than anything. A classic failure of the system.
To make a long story short, I was placed in foster care immediately following my hospitalization for a serious bone fracture. On the day of my release, expecting to go home to my loving family, I was brought into the hospital lobby and told by my crying and clearly hurt parents that I had to go stay with someone else for a while. I then began bawling and refusing to leave my family. The people from Child Protective Services then literally dragged me out of the lobby and carted me out of the hospital in a minivan similar to those that transport prisoners. I recall a woman attempting to console me, saying it was for my own good.
As it turns out, the hospital believed that my injury was a result of abuse by my father (who had custody of me) rather than an accident. They chose not to believe me when I said otherwise, claiming my injury couldn't have happened the way I said it did. As a 7-year-old, I didn't know what I was talking about. They, as well as my mother who hates my dad, reported the 'abuse' to the state, who then ordered me into foster care.
My caretaker was a woman with short gray hair in her 40s or 50s, living in a middle-class suburb not far from my home, who appeared to take care of kids for the state for a living, as there were several other children living with me, some moving out during my stay.
The rules of the household were very strict. We were not allowed to drink soft drinks, eat anything deemed unhealthy, our bedtime was 7 pm and we were only allowed to be in three rooms of the house. Despite this, I remember her being a genuinely nice woman. While I did make a friend there, my whole stay was devastating to me as I just wanted to go home.
As it turns out, that would not be the case for many months to come. The court ordered me out of my foster care and into the care of a relative, whom I was not close to after about a week. There, living conditions were worse than before. Just as an example, I was ordered to live in a household with four cats even though it is on record that I am deathly allergic to cats and contact with their dander triggers severe asthma attacks in me. Nobody cared.
When all was said and done, the experience robbed me of four months of my life, tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees from my father to clear his name, inflicted permanent damage on me and my family, forced me into unnecessary programs to 'monitor my mental health' and destroyed my relationship with my mother.
In short, it sucked. As for my mother, I'm not going to say she blatantly lied, her biased hatred of my father may have caused her to believe something could have happened, but she definitely sensationalized her accusations to derail my father's anticipated victory in the case.
I remember at one point during all of this, she went nuts on me during a visit because I slipped up and told her that I told my father's lawyer during an interview that my 2nd caretaker (the relative, not the foster mom) hit me and pulled my hair out of anger, which was true. Of course she was angry because the caretaker was a family member in her corner, not my dad's, and that could damage her credibility in the eyes of the judge.
Interestingly enough, the final result of the case was that my father was awarded full custody and my mother was given three visitations a year. She got married and moved out of state, 600 miles away, immediately after the case was decided. Ironically, she ended up seeing real abuse when her new husband used to assault her on a daily basis. My memories of those three annual visits were watching her and her husband fight, argue, pull out knives and battle incessantly. Now she is with another man and they have two kids together.
Sadly, we are no longer in contact."
"I grew up in foster care from ages 2 to 17. When I was 6 years old, I became a permanent ward of the state. I honestly don't remember how many foster homes I was in over the years, but more than 15.
The foster care system isn't made to create well-adjusted happy children. As soon as you are happy and/or comfortable in a place, they rip you out and put you in a new home. Having most of your belongings shoved into garbage bags when you were moved every few months made you feel like you were nothing. Sometimes they wouldn't even wait for you to be home to grab you and take you to a new home. Being pulled from class by your social worker and two cops is not exactly a healthy, fun experience. It makes what few friends you might have been able to make not want to stay in contact after you leave.
I was considered a 'good' foster kid, but because I wasn't a baby, I wasn't a desirable option and it was nearly impossible to find a permanent home, which meant I had to stay in an over-crowded, underfunded group home staffed by over-worked and underpaid people who stopped caring long before I came along. Group homes were the worst when it came to neglect and all kinds of abuse.
After being in a particularly awful group home at the age of 6, my social worker decided I had to be in an actual foster home or stay with a one-on-one caregiver in a hotel. The foster home after that was a fairly decent one, but my foster mom was more than a little emotionally unstable. When I left that one, I was placed in home after home of people who seemed to think that I was a live-in slave, a paycheck, or both. They felt proud of themselves for helping this poor little girl whose mother chose illegal substances and men over her kids.
On average, I maybe saw my social worker (different ones throughout the years) three or four times a year. That includes when I was being moved from place to place. When I was 17, I moved out on my own and have been independent ever since. I had to be because when you turn 18 they cut you loose because you are legally an adult and no longer their problem.
I am now a semi-successful 28-year-old. I consider myself to be pretty well adjusted. When people find out I grew up in the system they are usually shocked and can't believe that someone who seems so 'normal' was in foster care. My response is usually that I am stubborn. I wasn't going to let myself be a victim."
"I was in foster care from ages 5 to 8, my brothers (who are twins) were also in foster care from ages 2 to 5.
I'm still not clear as to why we were taken. My mom is the most amazing person, and while my dad is a huge piece of human garbage I don't remember him doing anything CPS worthy.
They tried to keep the three of us together but they just couldn't find anyone to take all three of us after our first foster mom bit my 2-year-old brother's thumb until it bled. So then I went on to a home where they had a daughter who lied through her teeth to get me in trouble. One time she told them I smacked her in the face and they believed her even though I didn't, and made me sleep in the living room with their huge dogs that I was terrified of.
I was an extremely picky eater and they implemented a rule that if I wasn't the first one done eating at mealtime, I had to eat cold baby food. I would gag and cry and they just kept shoving it down my throat. It took me years to even be able to smell baby food without dry heaving, and it made my eating habits worse. I remember telling my social worker about these things. She was upset I didn't tell her sooner and I was rehomed.
This final family was just amazing. They were a family of five (mom, dad, two daughters, and a son they fostered then adopted) and accepted me as just another family member. I was praised for good grades, did chores, and even went on vacations with them. I was there for a little over a year until I was returned to my parents. I still think about them all the time; they were so amazing.
My brothers were not so lucky. Eventually they, too, were separated. I think my one brother was in five or six different homes in those three years, and my other probably in 10-12 different homes. He has Aspergers, but no one knew back then and no one knew how to handle him, so they just kept passing him around, probably making everything worse each time. They've told me about the abuse they endured in their different homes, like being made to stick their heads in the toilet as punishment. I don't know what attracts abusive people to being foster parents, but plenty exist and it's really sad.
As far as visitation with our parents, first it was just once a week phone calls, then supervised visits, unsupervised visits, then even weekends away with them. I remember having supervised visits and screaming and crying when it was time to leave. I'd cling to the door frame and would have to literally be carried out. I can't imagine how hard that must've been for my mom. I remember I was with them for the weekend and got a fever. I was scared they were going to make me go back to my foster family early, and my mom told me, 'no sweetie, we're your parents we can take care of you.'
The system is messed up."
"My parents had just recently got divorced and they were fighting quite a bit. My mom moved us back to Florida from Illinois and had us stay at our aunt's house for a month or two. At the time there were four of us. I was 4 years old at the time, my younger brother was around 2, and my older sister and brother were no older than 11 or 12.
My mom went back to Illinois to finalize some things and get some belongings of ours. So we lived with our aunt. Within those first two weeks, from what my mom told us, after signing temporary power of attorney over to my aunt, she put us in foster care. I was in multiple homes. I was so young but some memories will never leave.
One of the first homes was the worst one. If I didn’t eat my food, I stayed the night at the kitchen table. One time, I threw up and I got thrown into a room for a full day and wasn’t allowed out. I remember crying under the door saying I was sorry. That same house had like six kids in it and I shared a room with four of them.
From what I remember though, the children were very nice. The foster parents were terrible though. Not only did they verbally abuse us, they fought each other. The husband and wife would essentially beat the crap out of each other in front of us. It was honestly the scariest thing I saw when I was that young. Then I got moved houses after some time.
I can’t remember them all, but I do remember temporarily being under the same household as my younger brother."
"My foster parents clearly had no intention of showing me any kind of love.
Becoming their foster child after being passed around the rest of my family and being rejected was really scarring for me. I moved in with them my freshmen year of high school and I actually ended up staying with them the whole way through. The only reason I chose to stay is because if I left for another foster house, I wouldn’t be able to go to the same school. While friends were few and far between, I made some really good friends I wasn’t willing to give up, so I decided to put up with the neglect.
In hindsight, I suppose I’ve become stronger over the experience, but it always scares me thinking of ever talking to my family again or even having a girlfriend because I’m afraid that I’ll treat them poorly like my family did me."
"Being in foster care was the worst 16 years of my life. Childhood was okay from what I remember. Things went south when I was placed in a new foster home as a teenager though.
The family was very abusive. The one thing that still sticks to me out of all the abuse was watching my little autistic sister get backhanded by the father because she wouldn’t stop crying. The mother threw a tin can at my face and cut it open and refused to take me to the ER and instead super glued the cut and taped it and it got severely infected and I had to lie about what actually happened.
I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom. Sometimes, I wasn’t allowed to leave my bedroom; they technically held me hostage until school. They told everyone about how terrible I was. And every time I tried to get help from school, they wouldn’t do anything even after showing proof the family denied everything until I was moved to a different family’s home while the mother went to Las Vegas for a vacation. I wasn’t going back to the evil family that really wanted to destroy everything I had."
"I was in the foster care system for only about two months when I was 8 because my grandmother (who raised me) was in rehab, my dad was in jail, and I hadn't seen my birth mom since I was an infant, so I had no immediate family member to take care of me.
I remember I was placed with this Indian family who had this huge house and they had a bunch of extended family members who lived with them. I have these vivid memories of the grandmother basically dragging me by one arm on multiple occasions up and down these huge stairs when no one else was home to the point where it felt like my arm was going to fall off.
I can't even remember why I just remember being terrified of that crazy woman. I remember she also didn't speak English well but would tell me she was my mom after like two days of knowing her and like forced herself to bathe me when I knew how to bathe myself like any normal 8-year-old does. All in all, I don't remember a ton from that two-month period because I blocked it out.
Luckily, my grandma got her act together and got sober."