"I had a “do what you’ve got to do mentality,” which included disconnecting from my emotions, not trusting anyone, believing everything was temporary and refusing to get attached. It wasn’t always true, but it hurt less when it was."
The statistics for youth who age out of foster care receiving a college degree are extremely disheartening—fewer than 5% finish a secondary education. Royce Markley beat the odds—as a child, he was in and out of foster care, eventually aging out of the system. His childhood was a roller coaster of emotions and situations, including times when his mom was doing what she needed to do to keep her kids to various foster care situations to several near adoptions, until an older couple offered him and his brother something they had never had before: stability. Royce’s story of frustration and determination to accomplish his goals, get his college degree and make a difference in the foster care community will inspire you!
As children, Royce and his brother were in and out of care because their mother abused drugs and alcohol and their father was abusive and often absent. Their lives were characterized by a series of ups and downs—it was a roller coaster mentality. At one point, it seemed his mom had given up trying to do what was necessary to get her children back until she got notification that they were about to be adopted. That spurred her into action and she did what was required for several years. When things were good, they went to church, had rules and she made dinner on a regular basis.
But when she fell off the wagon, they’d end up going all the way back to rock bottom.
When Royce was about 14 years old, he and his brother went back into foster care. He knew what was going on at that point—they would stay at a neighbor’s house for days at a time, or his mom would stay in her room for days, and he quickly became the caretaker for his siblings. “I shouldn’t have had to do that, but that was my role.”
Royce’s experience as a child instilled in him an independence at a young age, which wasn’t always good. He would stay with friends, get into trouble and bounce around. At one point at the end of middle school, he was almost adopted by his therapist, but that ended up not working out as his mother filed a complaint against her instead of signing rights over—even though his mother had been on board with it initially.
Royce moved around to probably seven or so different foster homes—it was hard, but he had already developed a “do what you’ve got to do mentality” and was usually able to disconnect from his emotions. He also developed a “don’t trust anyone, everything is temporary, and don’t get attached” attitude, which wasn’t always actually true, but hurt less when it was. “You feel like a nomadic child, always wandering around,” he explains.
When he would walk into a new foster family’s home, he felt he had to very quickly assess what the family’s desire is, what the rules are and how they operate. “I got very good at reading people and could pick up on things quickly,” he admits. Royce also felt that the first month was a trial period when everyone was seeing how things might go. But then it would get hard when he didn’t end up being the son they had or wanted.
The foster homes varied a lot, and in some homes, he felt like he couldn’t be himself. “Nobody survives foster care with a take it or leave it attitude,” he says. At that point, he would try to not sabotage the relationship with his foster parents and still take care of his brother. Different foster homes brought different experiences, and some were easier to deal with than others, especially relative to things like the biological children in the home or even how leaving was handled.
As Royce got older, about 18 or 19, he was asked to leave a home and his brother was not doing well. At that point, he felt burnt out on the foster care system and his choice was either to move out and try to live on his own and care for his brother or move into another foster home. He got a text from a friend who said her grandparents would be willing to take them in. The boys went over for dinner to explore the possibility and met the couple, who were probably in their late 60s or early 70s at the time.
During the dinner, “Papa” confessed that they didn’t know much about foster care or the experiences the boys had been through and said they didn’t really want to be “foster” parents—instead they wanted to be the boys’ parents and offered to be their family if they wanted that. There were still rough patches, but they helped the boys figure things out and have been a strong support system for them ever since. “We have a really amazing relationship,” says Royce. “And it means a lot to have somewhere to go on the holidays.”
Royce got his associate’s degree at a community college, but it wasn’t easy. He struggled and failed classes, lost his financial aid and had to work his way back. He eventually started thinking of college as a job and that helped him prioritize. He struggled with feelings of not belonging. He knows it is very difficult to go to college if a child in foster care ages out of the system without support. “If you don’t have someone to back you up, the little things can derail you,” he says.
Other issues kids in care face include just being a student on top of all the other struggles inherent in being in foster care; extracurricular activities are hard, if not impossible, to participate in because he often had to work to make ends meet; and many kids in foster care struggle to graduate high school, which makes it extremely difficult to attend college.
Royce encourages everyone to help because there are so many ways to get involved. He emphasizes the importance of being educated on what kids in care go through and suggests finding non-profits that will help them get involved in the foster care community.
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Meet Our Guest
Royce Markley is a 25-year-old foster care advocate and graduate student from the state of Oregon. He spent nine years in the system as a child/teen. He served as an intern with a national non-profit called FosterClub. In 2015, he created his own advocacy blog called FosterFight. His goal is to collaborate with advocates, foster care professionals and legislators in an effort to improve a foster care system in need of work as well as continue blogging via FosterFight in an effort to inspire, educate, and empower others about the foster care system.
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