Foster children are some of the most vulnerable people in the U.S. social system. They’re transient, in that they move from home to home. They deal with childhood trauma more than anyone else. They often come from low socio-economic households.
All these things lead to young lives who can’t foresee a future for themselves. There is rampant homelessness when children age out of foster care. A large percentage of them end up locked up, as many of them become criminals (not all, mind you, but many).
But is it their fault?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Justine Burton. She leads an organization called StopGap, Inc. I’ll get into the organization itself in a little bit, but just understand that it is a non-profit which helps foster children who are aging out of the system.
Justine & Her Experience in Foster Care
When I heard Justine’s story, I wanted to cry.
It is rampant with people exploiting her, abusing her (physically and sexually), and neglecting her.
She started her childhood living with her auntie and uncle. When her auntie died, her uncle was deemed unfit by the state to raise her and her brother and sister. She then found her mother and began living with her in Lawrence, KS. But the state deemed her mother unfit, as well, so she (technically) kidnapped them and fled to Missouri.
This is when the craziness began.
Her mother forced her and her sister into prostitution, and forced them to rob people for money. Mom used that money to indulge her alcoholic tendencies.
They rarely had food, and Justine told me a story of the time when her brother ate the entire pot of beans all by himself. He proceeded to vomit it all back up. With such a waste of food, the mother began beating him.
She chased him outside and he hid underneath the porch. So she went at him with a pitchfork. When she realized she could not reach him with it, she forced Justine to start boiling water so the mom could dump it on the brother.
Thankfully, she was unable to reach him with the hot water, but the trauma of the entire ordeal left scars on all of them.
Justine’s time with her mother was filled with stories like this. She used to force Justine and her siblings to fight, and the winner would get a helping of food. Mom used to bring people over to molest the children (who were teenagers at the time), in exchange for money. Which was then used to buy more alcohol for herself.
Justine escaped eventually escaped this situation, only to find herself in other terrible circumstances.
She continued to seek out relationships with people she thought she could trust – other foster families, other family members. But every single time, it ended up with someone raping her. At one point, she lived in a group home, and the girls there started raping her, too.
“After a while, you get numb, and you just try to space things out,” she said, “You just kinda cry to yourself.”
Finally, she just decided to live on the streets. But a winter in Kansas City is not kind to people who sleep outside. One particularly cold night, she fell asleep in an alley. She told me that she got frostbite that night, and that she would have just died…
But a teenager, named “Bunchie” drove up and told her to get in the car. He took her back home and put her in a warm bed, made her some soup. Bunchie’s parents decided to let her stay.
For the first time in Justine’s life, a family was being kind to her. “They taught me how to go to church and how to be a proper girl”, she said.
It was this positive influence in her life that lead to her finishing out her teenage years and getting her own apartment. She worked at a laundromat making $36/week, and her rent was $40/month. She was able to pull up her bootstraps and get a college degree.
Amazing, no?There is rampant #homelessness when children age out of #fostercare. Click To Tweet
Justine’s life up to this point gave her a real passion for children in the foster care system – specifically those who are going to age out and will be thrown to the wolves.
Young adults in foster care who turn 18 and no longer receive support from the government never learn skills to take care of themselves.
So Justine started StopGap, Inc. here in Lawrence, KS.
It’s a non-profit which teaches these kids lifeskills, while developing relationships with good adults who can be positive influences on them.
Here is a list of classes that StopGap offers:
- Employment Prep
- Selecting an Apartment
- Home Maintenance
- Budget & Finance
- Continuing education
- Vo Tech
- Junior colleges
- Sex Education
- Mental health
- Good vs. bad relationships
- Human trafficking
As you can see, these courses can change a person’s life if they have never learned these skills. StopGap is a really great service in our community.
I’ve personally volunteered for one of these courses – the employment preparation course. It opened my eyes to this great need. Justine is doing an amazing job.
Faith & StopGap
StopGap is not a Christian organization. But Justine credits all the help she’s given these kids to Christ, who saved her from the most terrible of lives and did a miracle to make her into the woman she is today. She is kind, joyful, loving, passionate. And that is all to the glory of God!#Fosterkids are some of the most vulnerable people in the U.S. social system. Click To Tweet
Justine has faith that she will continue to be able to help these kids. Her vision for the future to set up a computer lab (she has actually received funding for it already). And further in the future, she wants to set up a transitional-living program for those transitioning out of foster care.
And her ultimate goal is to set up campus like Drumm Farms, which “has Adoption program, houses for pregnant teens, kids aging out of foster care. They have animals and chickens, gardening. The community goes there for a famer’s market. They have golf course.”
Thank God for people like Justine. Her story – coming out of the pits of hell and becoming a beautiful, effective woman who not only can take care of herself but meets urgent needs in the community – is inspiring. And the only one we can attribute this drastic change is Jesus.
Also published on Medium.