What does it mean to be a foster kid, moving home to home? How do you know that you’ll be supported and loved? Tanner – an adopted 18 year old who spent much of her life in and out of foster care – says that it’s hard. She’s had first-hand experience in poor foster care environments, as well as good ones. Here’s Tanner’s story, and why Fostering Christmas has such a big impact on foster care children, like Tanner was.
A Story of Home Instability, Rage, And Growth
When Tanner’s father died, she was only four years old, and her little sister was just one year old. Their mother wasn’t in the picture at all. “It happened so long ago, it's fuzzy,” she said in our phone interview, “We were in foster care for quite a bit.”
After Tanner turned 7, she and her sister were adopted – but they only stayed for 6 years, given up when Tanner was 13. “We were adopted by an older couple, but they were super religious and extremely abusive,” she shared. It was a very difficult time. “We thought that would be our family, but you have to keep moving on.”
The sisters lived with their adopted aunt for a while, but were then put into a group home with nowhere else to go. Unfortunately, the group home didn’t offer a great environment for raising her little sister. “There were a lot of teenagers recovering from drugs,” Tanner recalled. “I really didn’t want my sister there.”
As their housing situation changed after that, the sisters were separated for six months. “It was a hard six months, but we got through it.” Tanner was adopted by her second family at 15 years old, and stayed until she was 17-and-a-half. At that point, Tanner’s sister had come to live with her new family, and they officially adopted them. Everything was looking up. “They’re a strict family, but they care about us.”
Just two weeks after the adoption, however, there was a big argument. At that point, Tanner had to separate from her sister, and live with a friend that, “honestly,” she didn’t know very well.
Fortunately, her friend’s family took her in – no questions asked. “They consider me their own daughter now,” she said cheerfully. The supportive dynamic she has with this family feels new. In the past, in terms of day-to-day social and emotional support, “For the most part, I didn’t have anyone else.” Except for Idaho caseworkers “like Jacqueline,” who Tanner says have been great throughout their foster care experience and have given them “great support.”
Now, it’s all settled for the best … with an exception. “I’ve never had a support circle like this, except for my little sister, who I rarely see now.”
Today, Tanner’s sister is doing well, and still living with their adopted parents. However, the foster care system hasn’t been easy for the sisters along the way. “It’s not easy for the parents and the kids. There’s a lot of rage in that little body,” Tanner explained, “My first adopted home was so bad, because they didn’t take the time to understand me. They were in it for my check.”
According to Tanner, foster kids need a lot of extra “love and dedication” in their new home environment. But even sponsors can make a difference, too. When it comes to feeling heard and appreciated, Fostering Christmas sponsors actually help many Idaho foster kids – including Tanner.
Why Your Gifts Are “The Best Thing In The World”
Christmas may be one of the most festive times of the year, but it isn't an exciting day for everyone. Tanner shared her experience of Christmas as a foster kid: “On that day, you have nothing. What do you have to grasp onto?”
Then she said, “But even if you get a new pair of shoes, it’s the best thing in the world. Opening things like that – it gets you through the next year. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
When Tanner was a freshman in high school, she was given a brand new pair of Nike shoes through Fostering Christmas. It may “sound silly” to appreciate shoes on a profound level, but, like many foster kids, she had a hard time fitting in at school. Her new shoes helped her feel more comfortable. “I was going to school in Boise at the time, and kids had a lot of nice things.” The shoes helped her “feel better about [herself].”
As a creative outlet, Tanner also drew all the time. “Drawing was my only way out, and helped me work through all the bad stuff.” She still draws to this day – partially thanks to the gifted art supplies that have helped her maintain her hobby.
Although these individual items meant a lot to her, it meant even more when it came from her personal wishlist. “When you’re in a home with unfamiliar parents, and they don’t know you very well, getting things from your personal wishlist makes [you] feel heard. It’s a voice to the children. They’re getting something that they want or need, and those sponsors are listening to that,” Tanner explained. “It made me feel loved. When I said, ‘Oh, I want art supplies,’ they got it for me. They heard me.”
What’s Next For Tanner?
When we talked to Tanner on the phone, it was actually the morning of her high school graduation! She’s currently working as a personal assistant for the elderly. Helping people gives her a lot of joy. She wants to make a career out of that passion, and is going to school to be a nurse.
We can’t wait to see what the future holds for you, Tanner! Thanks so much for volunteering to share your story. We’re so happy to hear that our sponsors made such a difference for you!
If you’re a sponsor, or would like to become one, you can make a direct, huge difference in a foster child’s life. Learn how to get involved here.