I Was a Kid in Foster Care, Now I'm Advocating for a Better System
Cassidy Littleton first entered the foster care system when she was 11 years old. Now a 20-year-old college student, she's meeting with senators in Washington D.C. to campaign for foster care reform. Here, she shares her story.
‘Confusing’ and ‘lost’. Those are the two words I’d use to sum up my experience as a foster child. I was always asking, “Why was I taken? What did my mom and dad do for this to happen? Are they in trouble? Am I in trouble? What’s going to happen to me?” There were so many questions all the time. I felt uncertain about everything, whether about my past or present or future. As a foster child, I was completely consumed by those thoughts and fear of what would happen next. From the time I first entered the foster care system at age 11, I didn’t know if I was safe, I didn’t know if I was moving again, I didn’t know how to act around my foster families. It made me feel lost in a world that I felt I had no control over.
This is why I met with our state representatives and senators in Washington D.C. as an advocate for foster care reform. I can’t say that I know how to reform the entire system, but I do know that there are specific issues that I want to fix that could have overarching impacts.
Children in foster care who are ‘aging out’ of the system—when they turn 18 and become legal adults—deserve more recognition as they become adult citizens in our country with real power in our communities. I absolutely think that rehabilitative programs and resources should be a mandatory part of every child’s case plan when they age out of the system, so that there’s no gap for these young adults to fall through. I was lucky enough to leave the foster care system in high school after being in the system twice, once at age 11 and once when I was 14. My older brother, on the other hand, became a ward of the state, which means he was appointed a state guardian—and he did age out of the system and struggled to find stability in his life.
My brother had a horrible childhood. He was tortured and neglected his whole life, and when he was a teenager he was in and out of juvenile facilities until he was finally removed from the family. When he aged out of the system, he got financial assistance from the government, but there were no resources to help him adjust to adulthood. He ended up taking his own life a week before his twentieth birthday—and it wrecked me. My favorite memory, and it’s also the last memory I have of him, was the day we walked from my house to his new apartment and played video games and ate pizza. Totally sounds like a brother-sister moment, doesn’t it?
I’m absolutely positive that if my brother would have had resources to guide him into adulthood and help him process his time in the system, he would still be alive. He’s a huge part of why I do what I do—I want to fight for the children who feel alone and without hope. I was there too, and I don’t think anyone deserves to feel that way, especially children.
A real game-changer for me when I was in the system was the staff at the Boys & Girls Club. To put it simply, the club gave me a support system and a family that pushed me beyond my circumstances. I started going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Magic Valley when I was 8 years old. The staff exposed my talents, encouraged me in my strengths, and gave me opportunities to redefine my future. When I was older and in high school, I grew extremely close to two of the administrators at the Club, Rashell and Lindsey. They were both like moms to me in the fullest sense of the word. They helped me get into a private school my senior year of high school. They helped me choose a college, do my applications, and buy my school supplies—they did everything. They loved me like their daughter.
I’m now 20 and a student at Northwest Nazarene University; I’ll be a junior this fall. I’m interning at the Idaho State Capitol right now, gaining some political experience, and just finished an internship working for a foster care organization. I’ve become a spokesperson for Boys & Girls Club to share my vision for America’s children and I proposed that Boys & Girls Clubs should be at the forefront of the fight for justice for children.
I have had meetings with lobbyists, lawyers, legislators, community leaders, and more to talk about my hopes for our system and network with more powerful voices. I want foster parents to know they have the power to help children rise above their circumstances and become incredible people. That’s why I share my brother’s story. That’s why I share my story. My story is not just mine; it’s the story of every kid in the foster care system too, and I want others to feel that recognition.