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The Horror Stories These Former Foster Care Kids Have Sound Too Bad To Be True. But They're Not.

When children are found in dangerous, abusive, or neglectful situations, we know exactly what to do: Get them out. But what happens next?

For 640,000 kids a year, foster care is what's next. And what happens there isn't always an immediate "happily ever after." Here are four stories of young people who grew up in the system and lived to tell the tale.

Meet James.



"Sometimes the people that are supposed to love you will hurt you as well."

James was put in the foster care system when he was only 1 year old. For the next 18 years, he was in and out of neglectful, abusive homes. Once, when staying with a racist foster father who saw him hanging out with a black friend, he beat James, drug him outside, clasped a dog collar around my neck, and cuffed his hand to a Confederate flag rail in front of the doghouse. He left James outside overnight in the cold of December with no clothes. The next morning, he said, "If I see you hanging with that [N-word] again, you will be out here for a week."

"I grew to realize that my circumstances equipped me with the tools and burning passion to make certain other foster youth do not experience what I did."

Eventually James was connected with a caseworker who changed his life. She took him seriously, listened to him about his placements, and helped him grow. Now he's graduating from the University of Southern California with a master's in ... what else? Social work.

Meet Marcellia.

"People need to know that foster care youth need love and care just like other children."

Marcellia was born to a drug-addicted mother who was unable to properly care for her and her siblings. They were placed in foster care when she was 10 years old, and Marcellia remained in the system until she aged out at 19. During those nine years, she was separated from her biological brothers several times, neglected, and placed in homes with, as she states so simply, "no love."
"One of my worst memories was coming out as a lesbian to my foster mom. ... When I was a high school senior, she said, 'I am not going to pay for a gay prom.' I took a job at a pizza place so I could save up and buy my own prom dress."

Marcellia somehow made it through. She is now a member of the California Youth Connection and advocates for current and former foster youth, working to make a better future for them.

Meet Melissa.

"If the system is a teacher, then she is incredibly cruel."

Melissa entered foster care when she was 2. Over the next traumatic 20 years, she was in and out of homes, back and forth between new placements and her biological family (which she believes should not have been afforded so many chances with her).

"I spent five years with a lady who blew the monthly stipend from DCFS on her own kids while we lowly fosters got to eat maybe once a day, if we were lucky. But she was very generous with the beatings, which often bordered on torture (making us kneel for hours on uncooked rice seemed to be her favorite)."

The one upside? Being on her own qualified Melissa for extensive college financial aid. But she wasn't able to finish. College felt almost impossible without the type of support and stability that most students have in a family. Now an adult, Melissa believes that the only way to reform the system is to create more opportunities for people like her and other survivors of the system in the system.

Meet Michael.

Michael started off in a roach-infested foster home in the housing projects of Queens, NYC. When he complained about the conditions to his social worker, Michael was removed and placed into a new home — with an abusive, alcoholic foster mother. He was 11 years old. Michael's only way of coping was to act out. He was eventually placed in psychiatric care and pumped full of drugs that made him sluggish and drowsy. But it was his way to survive.

"The psychiatric hospital was my escape from the madness. I acted out frequently, threatening to kill myself and doing anything I knew would land me back in the hospital."

Because of his experiences, Michael created Mind the Gap, a website that aims to improve communication around the mental health treatment of children in foster care.

The good news: They are not victims.

All of them have come through the system and landed on the other side, determined to prevent other children from having to walk the same difficult path they were forced to walk.

The bad news: The system is broken.

Nearly 32% of these children will wait over three years before being adopted. Nearly 15,000 children have been waiting for five or more years to be adopted. And at least 25 states do not meet the federal standard for keeping kids safe while in care.

Of course, all stories aren't as heartbreaking as these. There are many wonderful, compassionate parents; smart, competent social workers; and nurtured and loved children within the foster care system. But stories like these and others in Children's Rights' report "Children Unseen" are far too common. Thank God that James, Marcellia, Melissa, and Michael are standing up and speaking out to change that.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Teacher of the year explains why he's leaving district in unforgettable 3-minute speech

"I'm leaving in hopes that I can regain the ability to do the job that I love."

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And while parents, politicians and activists debate those remedies, one voice is all-too-often ignored: that of teachers themselves.

This is why a short video testimony from a teacher in the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County went viral recently. After all, it's hard to deny the points made by someone who was just named teacher of the year and used the occasion to announce why he will be leaving the very school district that just honored him with that distinction.

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