Saturday, November 15, 2008

Interview with Chair of FCAA Board of Directors

Man's journey through foster care makes him agent of change
Mayer, Steven. Bakersfield California, Nov 15, 2008.

It was Christmastime 1963 when, at the age of 4, Bill Stanton became a foster child for the first time.

Bill Stanton of Kernville grew up in foster care and now the 48 year-old uses his own experiences and the experiences of others to work toward a better foster care system nationwide.

“I could paint you a picture of that day,” he says, his eyes gleaming with the memory of a father’s sin.

Bill’s family had just finished trimming a meager Christmas tree in their third-floor Brooklyn apartment, when the excited 4-year-old tried to climb the tree, sending it crashing to the floor.

“Dad became really enraged,” he remembers. “He picked up the tree and threw it out the window. Then he threw me out the window.”

Bill landed on a pile of trash and survived the fall. But the incident signaled the end of his biological family and the beginning of 14 years of foster care.

“I was bounced through five different foster homes before I was placed with the Stantons,” he says. “I was adopted by them at age 19.

“That still happens today,” Stanton, now 48, says from the comfort of his family home in the hills above Kernville.

“We still move kids from place to place,” he says. “I don’t think the system — the courts — have a grasp of the damage that does.”

Stanton’s natural empathy for children and teenagers who are thrown into foster care has fueled a passion for reform. He has become an advocate for adults who experienced foster care as children and the children who experience it still.

A frequent keynote speaker and national spokesman for what is called the foster care alumni community, Stanton has served four years as board chairman of Foster Care Alumni of America, a nonprofit community of peers who advocate for improvements to federal legislation that impacts foster kids.

This month, Stanton was named the organization’s first “Vision Award” recipient for his work.

Will Hornsby, a child welfare specialist at the Children’s Bureau, a section of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helps conduct reviews of state foster care systems across the country.

Stanton’s background in the court system, Hornsby says, combined with his personal experience as a youth in the system and as a foster parent and adoptive parent gives him a multi-faceted perspective on the issues surrounding foster care.

“Bill brings a level of deep understanding, empathy and passion to this work,” Hornsby says.

Nearly two years ago, Stanton, his wife, Debbie, and their daughters Bethany, 16, and Abbigail, 14, welcomed a 2-week-old foster baby into their home.

Trevor John, “TJ” for short, was a crystal meth baby.

“I don’t know what a 2-week-old dreams about, but TJ woke up with night terrors,” Bill remembers. “It was just the saddest thing to see ... he’s a wonderful little guy.”

Not long ago, Bill and Debbie Stanton adopted TJ. Together they have taken one child out of the foster system and given him a home and a family.

But for Debbie, it’s not accurate to suggest the newest member of their family hit some kind of adoptive jackpot.

TJ is family, she says. It’s that simple. He brings as much love and goodness to the mix as he gets.

There are more than a half-million children in the foster care system nationwide, with roughly 2,700 children in the system in Kern County.

About 12 million American adults have experienced foster care, and Bill Stanton would love to see many of them turn their attention back to the system as advocates for change and mentors for foster youth.

“My mission is to reach out to those people in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” he says. “They can give policymakers insight.

“They understand what it means to put your life in a plastic bag as you’re moved to the next home,” he says. “Their experiences give them instant credibility.”

Foster Care Alumni of America
* A non-profit association founded in 2004
* More than 2,000 members from 50 states
* Mission: Connect the community of adults who have experienced foster care, and harness their accumulated experience and expertise to transform America’s foster care system.

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