Hello, my name is Shelda Anglin and I am a foster care alumni. I was removed from my mother’s care at the age of 10, along with my older sister, due to neglect, substance abuse and sexual abuse. I am now 46 years old, I have been married 25 years, I have two children, ages 25 and 23 and I am a grandmother to a beautiful three year old little girl. It is such an honor to be asked to share my “success” story so thank you for the opportunity to impart any small piece of my experience to help you in your journey through the system. While some may look at my life currently and say I am a success story, I simply say I am a survivor. I was 10 years old when my sister and I were placed in foster care. As many children do, I was oblivious to just how bad things were at home until I was placed in an alternate environment. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal for adults to use drugs. I watched my mom do a line when I was nine years old. That sight changed my life in a moment. I never saw her the same way again. Foster care saved my life. There is no doubt in my mind about that. At 10 years old, and placed in the home of strangers, I struggled. That first night in my foster home, I sat on this strange bed and felt for the first time in my life, completely alone. Sure there were people in the house but I realized in that moment, the one person who was my protector, my safe place, my mother, she left me and that feeling of abandonment is all consuming. Thankfully counseling had been court ordered and that got me talking. It got me opening up about the sexual abuse and for the first time, I met people who listened to me and wanted to help me find healing. It certainly didn’t come right away and it wasn’t easy. My sister once told me I was just stronger than her. That is why I was doing so well and she wasn’t. I said, absolutely not. It is not that I am stronger. It is that I do the work. The work of processing my trauma and healing. Once I began talking and I slowly lowered my walls, my foster parents and I found a connection I didn’t know was possible. My foster parents hugged me every night before I went to bed. This was strange to me, at first. It made me feel safe. It made me feel like I belonged there. I last saw my father when I was four years old. He sexually abused me as a child and our relationship was distant at best. It consisted of a few letters throughout the years and resolve was never found, because he refused to acknowledge what he did. He died when I was 16. My foster father was and always has been my dad. He taught me to drive, he showed me what it was to respect and love his wife and most importantly, he made me feel safe. He would take me to all my court hearings and he would sit right next to me and say, “its ok kiddo, I’m here.” He was the first person that told me I was in control of how my life would turn out. Prior to this, I felt like a passenger in my life and no one took the time to ask me what I thought about my case and they certainly didn’t ask me what I wanted. It wasn’t until my foster dad told me that my parents brought me into the world, but they did not determine who I would become. That was all up to me. It was the first time someone made me feel capable. The first time I felt like I was in the drivers seat of my life and I did have a voice. I began doing little things like telling my social worker not to visit me at school. I may as well have worn a sign around my neck that said, “I’m a foster kid” and I was done with that. It felt good. That same year, I had trouble in Spanish class. Spanish was not my subject. My foster dad came to the school, met with my teacher, and the principal and I felt like I was on cloud nine. No one had ever stood up for me like that. That same year another young girl was placed in our home. She was two years older, and she had an attorney. We all did, but honestly, I didn’t even know my attorney’s name. He made a quick appearance at hearings and didn’t bother to ask me what I wanted. My foster sister’s attorney was different. She would come to our home, and she would sit with her and they would go on outings. Occasionally, I would beg to tag along. I would listen as my foster sister would tell her attorney all her problems, what she wanted and what she didn’t and then her attorney would give her advice. She would say this is your life and you’re in charge. If the request was reasonable, she would make it happen. I watched and took it all in. This incredible woman impressed me so much. She had this wonderful way of making me feel heard and safe. I felt like I could tell her anything and she would really hear me. As we got to know one another, she talked to me about what it is to be an advocate. At that age, that sounded far fetched but it sure sounded like something I wanted to do for myself. Between my foster parents pouring into me and Terry teaching me about advocacy, I began to feel confident. On one particular Saturday, I went to my mom’s as I always did for weekend visits. This one would be different though. I had decided that I was going to confront my mom about why we were in foster care. My older sister was there and it seemed like the right time to get that apology, I felt I deserved. My mom not only refused to apologize, she blamed my sister. She blamed the child that she herself would leave in our motel room home, so her boyfriend could molest her. I walked to the phone, called my foster dad, and said come get me. It was the first time in my life that I felt confident enough in myself that I refused to accept a situation. I cried all the way home and my foster dad was so kind and assured me that my mom would come around. She did not. Thankfully, in the years between my stay with Chuck and Cathy Coates, and my mom’s death in 1998, I found a relationship with Jesus and so much healing. I was able to sit down with my mom, and forgive her. I learned through counseling, my relationship with Jesus and lots of years of self work, the forgiveness was for me. It wasn’t for her. Every day that I held onto that hurt and anger, I allowed myself to continue being victimized. One thing I quickly learned about myself as a young adult was I liked control way too much to allow anyone to have that power over me. My early years in foster care made me feel completely powerless. Once I learned how to own my power, I refused to give it away. Earlier I said, foster care saved my life. Let me explain why. I have two older siblings that were raised with me. They both struggled with drugs, my brother went to prison for sexual abuse of a child and my sister had two children that she did not raise. The way I look at that, is foster care came into my life at the perfect time. Had I been any older, I would not have been open to being molded. Thankfully for me, God had a much bigger plan for me and my story. That first night in my foster home, what I cried out to God was “what did I do to deserve this?” “Why is this happening to me?” It wasn’t until I became an adult that I began to understand the reasons. I emancipated from foster care at 18, I moved back home to my mother’s house and my foster parents and I were estranged. That was the result of my ditching school and just being 18. That time period was difficult but oh so important in my journey. I needed to see my mother for who she really was and I needed to remove myself from that environment, rather then CPS doing it. I needed to have that power restored to me and it was. Five years passed before I called my foster parents and made amends. By that time I had gotten married, had two children and realized that life was too short to miss out on relationships for silly reasons. In 2001, I saw a commercial on tv for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program. CASA recruits, trains and supervises volunteers from the community while they speak for children in foster care. They go to court with the child and they advocate for their best interest. I immediately called and got involved. During that training I had to return to the emergency shelter where I spent six days as a 10 year old. The sound of the doors closing behind me, even as an adult was startling. It helped me realize, healing from trauma is a never-ending journey. I am so much further along in my healing then I have ever been. That doesn’t mean I’m completely over it. I am a survivor, and I am a child advocate. I spent 15 years advocating for CASA children as a volunteer, a staff member and a Board Member (Advocate Representative). As I mentioned before, once I learned how to own my power, there was no stopping me. So many incredible things happened during my time with CASA. I walked hand in hand with youth as they began their journey through the system. It was important to me that I imparted all the knowledge I had gained as a result of my own journey in an effort to save them any pain. There is something special that happens when someone who has experienced what you are going through reaches out a helping hand. My experiences in foster care gave me a special connection to the youth that facilitated many great outcomes. There were many times that I would sit with a youth and I would print out their foster child rights and I would go line by line and explain to them that they did have control. Their opinion mattered and I would see the light come back into those eyes that were so sad. Its such a basic right that we all have to feel safe. It is something that foster children more often then not, have ever felt. Normal to them is living in a constant state of chaos. I took a special interest in working with emancipating youth. In part because my own emancipation was so difficult. After eight years of controlling my every move, my social worker gave me a piece of paper and a gift card to K-Mart and said you’re on your own. The system makes terrible parents. We must do better about wrapping our foster children with support and this is why I am excited about working with agencies that seek to be resources for foster youth. Now that I am a grandmother, a wife of 25 years and a mom to two adult children, I have begun focusing more on helping parents. I have also had the privilege of attending weddings, baby showers and have had many phone calls with former CASA children that are thriving. Not all of them are, and I get those calls too. Life is not easy. It is somehow more bearable when you have someone to walk through it with. As I have transitioned into this new role, I can’t help but wonder if my own mother would have been successful at reunification had someone walked along side her. So, that is what I am doing now. I have begun Shelda Anglin Consulting LLC and I also do public speaking for foster care awareness. I have been incredibly blessed to use my journey to help others. After all, that is what we need in foster care. We need support. It seems obvious, that we cannot remove children from their home of origin, take them from every familiar smell, their favorite toy, their grandma’s familiar arms and place them in a stranger’s home and expect them to figure it out. When they struggle to come to terms with their trauma, they are labeled as having behavioral problems. No, what they have is trauma and what they need is support. We absolutely must wrap our foster youth in support, and it truly is incredible what a youth can achieve when they know they have someone in their corner. An unconditional support person that will be a phone call away on Thanksgiving, a friendly face in hard times and a “mom” hug when we need one. It truly is incredible what a foster care alumni can achieve with support.
Thank you again for the privilege to share my foster care story.