By Former Client Jacob Hostetter
If my adolescent self had known that I would be sitting here and writing to a community of foster children, parents, and social workers about my positive experience in the foster care system, I would not have believed it.
My story starts with my childhood in Locustdale, PA, a small town in Schuylkill County. I always thought my life was normal, but rather it was my perception of normality.
I lived with my mother, father, older sister, younger brother, cats, and fish. During my teenage years, I started to experiment with drugs and alcohol and eventually graduated to opiate pills. My siblings and I shoplifted, vandalized, and skipped school. It was due to all of these issues that Children and Youth Services (CYS) eventually became involved in our lives.
In June 2007, my CYS caseworker informed us that my mother was arrested and my father had fled the state. Since no other family members lived in the immediate area, we were placed in the foster care system.
As you can probably imagine, a fifteen-year-old kid taken from his family, friends, and lifestyle isn’t likely to be the nicest person to new foster parents, but despite that I was accepted with no questions asked.
I was soon placed in the home of Michael and Tabitha Fidler who worked out of CONCERN’s Susquehanna Valley Regional Office. My first day there, I tried to steal Mrs. Fidler’s cigarettes and cursed out Mr. Fidler. Clearly, I had a pattern of disrespecting everything and everyone around me.
Eventually, my new environment forced me to focus on other things such as schoolwork. As it turns out, I had a brain in my head. When I actually studied, I earned good grades. This was something I had never done before.
In May 2008, my siblings and I were told that we had a court hearing scheduled and that our parents might be there. At that point, we hadn’t had contact with them for nearly a year due to their legal issues and when we arrived at the courthouse, there they were!
We were scheduled for a few more visits, after which we would be allowed to live with our parents again. Soon after our second visit on June 6, my father had a seizure and passed away. A few years later, we learned he had died of a drug overdose.
In June 2010, when it was time for me to graduate high school, Mrs. Fidler asked me what I planned on doing with my life. Still grieving, I told her that I would do manual labor because that was what my father did for a living.
Little did I know, the next thing she said would totally change the way I thought about my future: “Jake, you have a brain in your head and the resources available to go to college.” With the support of my family, CONCERN, and Northumberland County Children and Youth Services, I earned my B.A. in Psychology from Susquehanna University in 2014.
After graduation, I found employment as an addictions counselor in a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility. This experience further taught me the importance of making healthy lifestyle and behavioral choices. I look back on my negative behavior patterns and thank my good fortune that foster care interrupted a series of extremely poor choices.
I did not always feel this way about foster care. To be honest, I despised it. The shock of being placed in a new environment and being pushed in a different direction made me angry and led me to rebel. Looking back, I realize it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Our pain and challenges make us who we are today. Not all foster children are as fortunate as I, but I urge any foster child to remember that pain and fear do not have to define our entire future. There is always hope that a negative situation is temporary and can be unexpectedly worthwhile.
To the foster parents and social workers, I understand that sometimes it feels like the rewards are outweighed by the stress that goes into helping others, but you can make all the difference to a foster child.
I still keep in regular contact with my foster parents and I cannot thank them enough for giving me their dedication when I needed it most. With them as our role models, my wife and I plan to pay it forward by someday becoming foster parents and adopting our own foster children.