"I remember getting in the back of a police car and looking at her while she was standing there watching us drive away…and then I remember waking up in a shelter the next day."
Emma Williams, a woman who was in and out of several foster homes, shelters, and adoptive family situations in her life, will give you amazing insight into the sometimes hard realities facing children in foster care.
Emma’s Early Years—How She Got into Foster Care
Emma’s first experience in foster care was the result of her mother’s attempt to protect Emma and her brother from their father’s abuse. Her parents had met in Korea while her father, who was African American, was in the Army, so when they moved to the US, her mother, who was Korean, was in a strange place with very little support. Drug and alcohol abuse caused her father to be discharged from the Army, which made home life worse for the family.
Emma’s memory of leaving her family at the age of five includes the school calling Child Protective Services after an incident, then getting into the back of a police car with her mother watching, and waking up the next morning in a shelter. “I know she loved us—she used to tell us that all the time,” says Emma. Both Emma and her brother were removed from the home—“because my mother wanted to protect us from our father.”
Foster Care, Adoption, and Back into Foster Care
Emma describes a series of foster care situations, intermixed with adoptive (or potential adoptive) scenarios which ended up not working. Her first foster care home was just as abusive, if not more, than her own family. As a child, she never asked for help, so nobody knew of the about the things that were happening. After leaving that home, she and her brother were placed into a second foster care home that was “absolutely perfect.” In this home she was taken to church—even though she rebelled at first, she loved to go by the time she left.
Emma left that home because they were adopted. She was excited to go to be going to a family of her own, where she would even have a sister. However, due to the abuse of her past, her own actions prevented her from staying, even though her brother was adopted by this family. A good example of a child who couldn’t talk out her problems, so she acted out. “I never knew I could tell—I just never said anything,” she says. She eventually went back to the second foster care home. All of this had happened over the course of several years, so she was now about 14 years old.
Wanted for Her Looks
Multiple times Emma was wanted purely, it seemed, based on her looks. “They didn’t realize the pretty little girl in pigtails came with problems,” says Emma. Her foster mother’s niece fell in love with Emma’s looks and wanted to adopt her. So she moved to Texas, but fell into the wrong crowd and ended up being kicked out by the family who had planned to adopt her. She ended up back in foster care in Oklahoma. Although it was hurtful every time something didn’t work out, Emma’s biggest hurt was leaving her father and mother, then her brother. After that, her attitude became “if it hurts, just leave.”
Jami mentions a book by Carissa Phelps, another foster care survivor, called Runaway Girl. Emma agrees that many times it was easier to just run away than to try to work things out in a foster care situation—especially when she wasn’t “the perfect little girl they wanted me to be.” Emma’s third potential adoptive home was with a single woman who, again, “loved [her] for [her] looks.”
Even after all the back and forth and not-so-great experiences, Emma was hopeful regarding adoption. “I was so hopeful I would literally change my name,” she says, each time hoping for a fresh start and a place in a family.
Finding Her Grandmother and Emancipation
When she was about 16, Emma located her paternal grandmother in Louisiana. She ended up running away to go meet her—although she wasn’t able to stay with her at that point. When she was 17, she was emancipated from the foster care system and moved to Louisiana to live with her grandmother.
Although Emma never remained in an adoptive home, she believes her life would have taken different turns if she had had a family. “I would have definitely made better decisions if I had better role models,” she says, adding, “and better parenting skills for my own children.”
Goals and Plans
Because of her experiences, Emma has specific dreams and goals for her life. “I definitely have a purpose in life…because of what I went through,” she says. Although she dropped out of high school at 18, she recently finished an associate’s degree in human services management. Her dream is to open a foster home or shelter for teen girls who are transitioning out of the foster care system, so that they can learn to be adults in a safe environment.
Hopefully, this episode has helped you right where you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal. If you enjoyed it, will you tell others?
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Meet Our Guest
Emma Williams was in and out of several foster homes, shelters, and adoptive family situations in her life. Emma is now a single mom of four young children who has a dream of making a difference in the lives of teen girls transitioning out of foster care—giving them practical help and strategies for life beyond foster care. Emma lives in California and can be contacted through email.
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