GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – At any given time, there are thousands of youth in foster care, wishing to be adopted. But as they get closer to turning 18-years-old, their chances of adoption get slim; they run a high risk of never having a family to call their own.
Fox 17 News spoke with a foster teen, and then a man who “aged out” of the system, or essentially forced into entering the world alone at 18-years-old without a family. They shared some of their stories of hope and hell, as they wished to have the one thing many of us may take for granted.
Imagine what it would be like to live with the constant fear of rejection: living in a group home then watching your friends get adopted, as the beds around you slowly empty.
Cody, 15, has been in the foster care system close to seven years, in and out of so many foster homes he lost count.
“It makes me sometimes want to pull my hair out,” said Cody.
To most children, moms and dads can seem like superheroes: fearless protectors taking care of their families. Cody is forced to look at things differently. He says every kid like him needs a superhero.
“I’m going to have to go with Hulk, and Superman; and everybody in this room,” said Cody, surrounded by his adoption caseworkers.
He carries an unfinished Spiderman drawing with him wherever he goes, because without it, he’s got no parents to look up to.
“It makes me feel crammed,” said Cody. “It makes me feel like I’m shoved in a box with nowhere to go.”
Now Cody lives with at least a dozen other kids in a group home. He gets frustrated with the same routine every day, and misses things that most teens have every day: there’s no TV, a fixed menu, and no driver’s training, even though he just turned 15-years-old.
But somehow Cody said he is grateful for what he does have, and stays positive.
“It’s not that bad here, but I really need a family; one that loves me for who I am, one that’ll care for me,” said Cody.
A big source of hope for Cody, is his mentor Devin.
“He’s the best thing that ever came to me,” said Cody.
Devin gets it.
“Foster care, it takes a toll on you,” said Devin. “It’s kind of like, like you’re going to a funeral every day. There are people always leaving.”
Devin aged out of the system himself, meaning by his eighteenth birthday, he was never adopted.
“Family is not always what you’re born into; you can make your own family,” said Devin. “That’s what I did.”
Devin has dedicated his life advocating for foster youth. As a “been there, done that” mentor with Operation Forever Home, he meets with youth like Cody at least a few times per month.
Although it’s a 12-month gig, Devin tells them he is not going anywhere, because he knows what kids like Cody are going through. Devin has been there himself.
“It kind of makes you feel like you’re the problem, because people keep leaving,” said Devin.
Devin was separated from his twin brother, who’s blind, at age 13. Devin only has 18-percent vision in one eye, but he teaches Cody you have got to be determined.
“Everything that I do, I do at least twice as hard or more,” said Devin.
And to get you through each day, Devin said you have got to find a positive escape.
“Your passion, or the thing that gets you through the day, that’s the only thing you hold onto,” said Devin.
For Devin, that passion is art. He started his art business, 18 Below; it is a tribute to his struggles and to his twin.
For Cody, his escape is cooking, and then looking ahead.
“I see myself, in the future, either being a veterinarian or a cook,” said Cody.
Cody knows he only has three more years to be adopted, but he listens to Devin and his caseworkers, when they say there is hope.
“Everyone needs a family,” said Devin. “So if you’re thinking about adoption, just don’t think further, just do it.”
Each week FOX 17 News features a youth in Michigan foster care who is at high risk of aging out of the system. You can find them by searching “forever home” on fox17online.com.
Also, you can see all Michigan youth who are currently available for adoption on the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange website.
Michigan does have what’s called Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care, meaning if an 18-year-old is not adopted, they can stay in foster care until their twenty-first birthday. However, they have to be in school or working, and maintain all of their appointments, medical or casework for instance, on their own.
As we have learned and heard from every single youth and advocate we meet, everybody deserves a family.