Bethany Brodowsky still catches herself glancing into drinking glasses to check for cockroaches before taking a sip. Her younger sister, Brittany, agonizes over whether she could have done more to stop Bethany from being raped.
The past haunts these sisters, but they are determined not to let it define their future.
The Brodowskys landed in foster care when Bethany was 13 and Brittany was 11. Separated, they bounced around the system for months, falling into rage, defiance and depression.
Then, one day, hope appeared: Bethany and Brittany landed in a foster home with a woman who cared. Living in a stable home helped the sisters thrive, but navigating their teenage years hasn’t been easy.
Bethany turned 18 in August and, like all foster children, became legally independent. Now, she walks the teenage tightrope of life-changing choices alone, and Brittany, now 17, watches as her older sister takes control of her own life.
One move, right or wrong, could shift the balance between success and failure.
■ ■ ■
Knives chop chop chop on cutting boards and water bubbles in pots on the stove. It’s a weeknight nearly two years ago, May 2008, and Bethany and Brittany are at a meeting of Footsteps to the Future, a foster girl mentoring group. They’re learning how to make dinner.
Bethany, 16, peels a cucumber with practiced ease. She’s wearing a Golden Gate High School Titans T-shirt, and her curly brown hair is pulled off her face with a small, simple clip. She’s reserved, talking quietly with a few other girls.
Nearby, Brittany, 15, cleans fat off chicken. Her T-shirt says “High School for Idiots,” and her 5-foot 10-inch body is all legs and arms. She is more outgoing than Bethany, despite the fact that she got into a fight at school and a purple bruise marks the skin under her eye.
“It’s really important for us to try to catch these kids by the time they’re 14 to try to prepare them to age out,” says Judi Woods, the group’s organizer, a formidable woman with the voice of a drill sergeant and the attitude of a mother bear. “So many of these kids grow up in the system. They were originally abandoned by their parents and then they turn 18 and they’re abandoned for a second time.”
Four years after aging out, 25 percent of former foster kids have been homeless, 46 percent haven’t finished high school, 83 percent can’t support themselves — and 60 percent of female former foster kids already have had children.
■ ■ ■
The sisters decided to tell their story because they wanted the world to know that there’s more to them than police reports, court documents and newspaper articles about their mother’s child abuse trial. Their mother’s defense attorney argued that Bethany was a promiscuous, out-of-control child. That hurt.
Bethany makes a list out loud of all the places they lived with their biological family, ticking off on her fingers and then starting again when she loses track: Pink-painted apartments off Bayshore Drive, trailer number 400 in Diamond Shores off Collier Boulevard, a cockroach-filled place and another trailer.
Food was scarce and they picked through the Dumpster behind Publix for expired groceries. Bethany’s fifth-grade teacher gave her a cabinet in the classroom and a hairbrush because she was going to school hair unbrushed, face unwashed. Kids teased them, calling them “cootie girls.”
Years later, their foster mom asked the school for copies of their school pictures so they have images from their childhood. There were a lot of gaps. The sisters missed a lot of school in those days.
“My mom ... she was there physically, but she was never there to tell us ‘Hey you can’t do this,’ Bethany says. “I mean, how can you tell your kids that you can’t do this or that whenever you’re doing something that’s worse.”
Their world was one of hunger and domestic violence and drugs and arrests. Their biological father was described as a “career criminal” in police reports. He left them. They had a stepfather, but he left, too.
Then there was Horacio Linaldi, the man they call “Grande.” The sisters say his name quietly when they talk about him, pronouncing it in the Spanish way: “Gr — AHHN — day.” He was a big man with dark hair and dark eyes. His profile on the Florida Department of Corrections Offender Network lists him as 6 feet tall and 230 pounds.
He was Bethany’s godfather and their mom, Tamera Brodowsky, 41, had his nickname tattooed on her left calf.
Bethany remembers the sexual abuse starting when she was about 11 years old, and police reports tell the same story. The abuse happened at her home in Diamond Shores and at his house when she babysat his kids and his wife wasn’t around. Her mom started dating him and it continued. It went on for about two years.
During that time, Linaldi was arrested and charged with trafficking cocaine, 28 to 200 grams. As a part of a plea bargain, he pleaded to possession with intent to sell.
Meanwhile, there was another man, 22-year-old Billy Allan Raulston. Bethany had sex with him twice. At the time, she thought she loved him, Bethany says. She was 13.
When Bethany’s mom found out about Linaldi and Raulston, both of whom were later charged, she was angry at her daughter.
“(Bethany) was honestly just breaking right in front of me. She was having a mental breakdown ... with everything she had gone through.”
- Brittany Brodowsky
According to Bethany, and her mother’s statements in police reports, Brodowsky took Bethany to a gynecologist to verify that she had had sex and got her birth control pills. She also took Bethany to a friend’s house and had Bethany’s head shaved and her private area pierced. Bethany stopped going to school.
Brodowsky called the Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 11, 2004, and reported that Bethany, who was 13 at the time, had sex twice with Raulston and that she had been having sex with Linaldi since she was 11 years old. Brodowsky did not mention the words abuse or rape.
“(My mom) didn’t see it as rape,” Bethany says, her voice breaking on the last word. “She...”
Bethany exhales as if the air is choking her. She pauses.
“My mom makes me so mad, like, that memory makes me so mad ... It makes me kind of feel, like, helpless because my mom kind of went through the same thing of rape and ... for her to think that it’s my fault ... it’s just ridiculous.”
“(Bethany) was honestly just breaking right in front of me,” Brittany remembers about that time. “She was having a mental breakdown ... with everything she had gone through, with everything they had put her through — Grande and my mom.”
The Department of Children and Families took Bethany and Brittany away on Oct. 13, 2004. Bethany was 13 and Brittany was 11.
■ ■ ■
“The damage that abuse does to a person, it’s hard to even measure it,” says Ruth Gordon, a clinical social worker who works with foster children. “These kids, you’ll either see them grow up too quickly or not develop appropriately. Their emotional development, very often it hasn’t even happened. They work on a level of survival.”
Being hurt by a primary caregiver, especially a mother, can ruin a child’s ability to trust forever, Gordon says.
Four people were charged with crimes as a result of what happened to Bethany.
The Sheriff’s Office obtained a warrant for Linaldi’s arrest on a sexual battery charge. At the time, he was 37. He hasn’t been found. He has two other outstanding warrants for probation violations involving his Aug. 4, 2004, conviction for cocaine possession with intent to sell.
The other man, Raulston, was charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious battery for sex with a 12 year old. He was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail and sex offender probation, which he violated several times.
Brodowsky, the sisters’ mom, was charged with two counts of first-degree aggravated child abuse, but a jury acquitted her of all charges when she went to trial three years later. The five-man, one-woman jury decided her actions toward Bethany didn’t involve punishment, malicious intent or cause permanent damage or disfigurement.
And finally, the friend who helped Brodowsky pierce Bethany, Tammy “Tattoo Tammy” Meredith, was charged with aggravated child abuse and operating a piercing parlor without a license. She was convicted on Jan. 30, 2007, of child abuse for inflicting physical or mental injury upon a child and operating a body piercing business without a license.
Today, the sisters’ mom lives in a small house in East Naples with her mother and 2-year-old granddaughter, who was taken away from her son, the sisters’ brother. Brittany and Bethany worry about their niece.
The Daily News contacted Brodowsky multiple times for an interview for this story, but after speaking with the lawyer who represented her during the child abuse case, Donald Day, she decided not to be interviewed.
After she was acquitted in October 2007, Brodowsky told a Daily News reporter who covered the trial: “I regret that this all came down to losing my daughters.” She said that she regretted taking her friend’s advice to pierce Bethany.
“I don’t want people to look at me like I’m a monster — because I’m not. ... Whether it’s legal or illegal, I was trying to protect my child.”
Asked in November 2009 if she wants to have a relationship with her daughters in the future, Brodowsky wouldn’t grant an interview but did say: “Of course any parent wants to have a relationship with their child.”
Brodowsky’s parental rights were terminated, meaning that Bethany and Brittany could have been adopted. They didn’t want to be. They’d been hurt too much by their biological parents.
Living in the system
The first few months were a free fall.
Thirteen-year-old Bethany bounced from group home to group home. She was “Baker-acted,” which means that she was involuntarily committed with a 72-hour hold because someone had determined that she was a threat to herself or others. They put her in a room by herself and took away her bra.
She spent time in a Baptist children’s home, a shelter for at-risk youth and runaways, and a short-term crisis center. She ran away and got in fights. She moved about 6 times during a four-month period.
Brittany, who was 11 at the time, was young enough to go to Youth Haven, an East Naples shelter for abused, abandoned and neglected children. She lived in suspended animation, ignoring the past and the future and becoming moody and depressed.
Bethany finally landed at Cathy Crowley’s house in East Naples in February 2005. She was supposed to be there for just two weeks, but she never left.
Bethany ran away from Cathy’s house once, but Cathy went after her and found her. In that moment, Bethany says she felt something change inside.
“That was the one thing that I really needed, is for someone to say ‘I’m not giving up,’” Bethany says.
Meanwhile, Brittany’s birthday was looming: She couldn’t stay at Youth Haven past age 12. The sisters began to see each other, and Brittany moved into Cathy’s house.
They had no idea then, but moving in with her would change their lives forever.
■ ■ ■
“That was the one thing that I really needed, is for someone to say I’m not giving up.”
— Bethany Brodowsky
A timer goes off in the kitchen and Cathy, 45, gets up to put dinner on the table. They gather around the wooden kitchen table and pray before eating chicken cordon bleu. As their forks clink on plates, they chat about the first days of school. It’s August 2008; Bethany is a junior and Brittany a sophomore. They debate school lunches: Buy or bring from home?
“Well it’s only 50 cent,” Bethany says.
“Ssss,” Cathy says. Bethany rolls her eyes and says that cents sounds weird. “Sounds weird, but it’s right,” Cathy replies. You can tell she’s a teacher.
Cathy isn’t a mom prone to effusive displays of affection, but you can see in the way she tries to lead the sisters to the right choices that she cares about them very much. There are usually modifiers before parental figures when these girls talk — “biological mom,” “biological dad” — except for when they talk about Cathy. She’s not “foster mom,” just “mom.”
The conversation shifts to favorite classes and favorite teachers. Bethany says that she just read in the paper that a favorite teacher’s son died, and continues — as if it’s not at all out of the ordinary — “I read the death notices because I want to know if anyone in my family dies.”
Like other teenagers, Bethany and Brittany’s lives revolve around chores, school activities and homework. But, now and again, a flash of something else rises to the surface. They mention their biological family, their mother’s trial, or something about the life they lived before and you’re reminded how those shattering events still have their ripples, one after another, affecting their future.
But Cathy and Brittany don’t stop to think twice about Bethany reading the death notices. The conversation presses forward and soon, dinner over, they stand to clear the table and quibble about who is going to load the dishwasher.
■ ■ ■
The school bell rings and students stream into the hallways of Golden Gate High School. Doors burst open and slam shut.
“I don’t know if they could have survived one without the other.”
— JROTC Lt. Col. Paul Garrah
It’s about nine months later, May 2009, and the school year is nearly over. Bethany stands around a table in the JROTC classroom, chatting with other female students.
A moment later, Brittany breezes in wearing a pink backpack that is so big it looks like she’s carrying all of her textbooks at once. They’re dressed in jeans and the polo shirts required by their school’s dress code. Each wears small pieces of jewelry — little earrings or a simple necklace — but no big hoops, heavy makeup or elaborately done hair. They’re not girls who spend hours in front of the mirror.
The sisters chat for a moment, and then Brittany leaves. “See you sis, love ya,” she calls over her shoulder. “Bye,” Bethany calls back. “Better get to class.”
It’s a small moment, but it shows something about these sisters. Brittany worries about her older sister like a doting grandmother: Does she have her jacket? Will she make the school bus? Did she eat enough for lunch?
The bell rings and on cue, Lt. Col. Paul Garrah strides out of his office in the back room to the front of the classroom.
“Welcome, Welcome,” he calls out. He’s dressed in uniform and though he’s not particularly tall or big, his voice and presence commands attention. “So it’s the last week of school, who is a junior and now a senior?”
About three quarters of the students raise their hands, including Bethany. “And who is going to do JROTC again next year?” he asks. Bethany raises her hand again, grinning.
Garrah has known Bethany for three years, and today she’s a different person, he says. Freshman year, Bethany spent hours crying in his office. She was hurting mentally.
“Three years later, she’s still not where I would like her to be but I have really high standards,” he says, blue eyes smiling behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “She admits if she makes mistakes, she doesn’t try to blame people, she thinks about her actions.”
High school is a world of cliques and social hierarchy, and the sisters have faced adversity, he says. He’s told them time and again that you can’t always control what happens to you but you can control how you react. They’re learning.
“Brittany has learned from her older sister,” Garrah says. “And I think the younger sister is able to cope a little easier and doesn’t let things get to her as much. The younger one really keeps an eye out for the older one.”
“I don’t know if they could have survived one without the other.”
Into the unknown
The new caseworker — their third in three months — arrives, armed with the papers that will make Bethany an adult.
It’s late August, a few days after Bethany’s 18th birthday. It seems absurd that signing a few forms will make her responsible enough to make all of her own decisions. Most kids grow into adult responsibilities, but not foster children.
Bethany sits down at the kitchen table and writes her name, address, school on the forms. She answers questions about her future plans: Where she’ll live, work, study. On the last page, it asks who she goes to for help and she checks the boxes for parent (meaning Cathy) and mentor (for Lauren, her Footsteps to the Future mentor).
“Foster kids need so much more after they’re 18 than we’d dreamed of,” says Woods, the woman who runs Footsteps to the Future. “I found out that the biggest problems really start to surface after they age out.”
Bethany and Brittany are lucky they have lived in a stable, happy foster home for about five years, Woods says. But that doesn’t mean growing up and aging out will be easy.
Former foster kids often flounder in the first years after they turn 18, Woods says. As long as they’re in school the government gives them a stipend until they’re 23, but they often don’t know how to manage that money, or how to prepare for the day when they’ll no longer get it. They struggle to forge healthy relationships with friends and significant others, support themselves, get jobs and finish school.
Adults who spent time in foster care suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder nearly twice as often as U.S. war veterans, according to the Annie E. Casey foundation, a national nonprofit that studies and works to help disadvantaged children.
“Mental health issues are often the biggest issues,” Woods says. “They wonder where they fit in society: ‘How come my life wasn’t normal? What was there about me that made my family treat me the way they did?’ Yes, they do want to break the chain. But many times the idea of breaking the chain and what they can actually do are two different things.”
■ ■ ■
It’s a weekday in September 2009, and the sisters are in Brittany’s bedroom doing homework and hanging out.
Bethany sits cross-legged on the end of one of the twin beds with her laptop, an 18th birthday present from Cathy. Brittany lies next to her, back propped against the headboard, books in her lap and legs under the covers. She’s in her pj’s, hair in a mussed-up, bed-head bun.
They’re not talking about it, but something is different and it separates and confuses them. Bethany has started seeing their biological family. Until she turned 18, her caseworker controlled her family visits but now it’s her choice. Brittany is worried. Cathy is too.
Ask Bethany about it and her shoulders hunch, her eyes cast down and her voice turns monotone. Press with pointed questions and she’ll tell you bits and pieces.
She’s seen them three times, she says. Her brother got married at the courthouse and she went. There was a reception at the house where he and her mom live in East Naples. She went to that too. Yes, she saw her biological mom. No, she didn’t talk to her. No, it wasn’t that awkward.
But problems have started with Cathy. After her birthday, Bethany bought a car with her own money and Cathy’s permission. But she’s been coming home late and talking to her family on the phone more than Cathy said she could. Cathy took away her phone. Bethany got mad.
“Even though I’m just a foster parent and not a real parent, I still have hopes and dreams for her,” Cathy says, her tone worried. “Anything I feel is going to get in the way of those hopes and dreams bothers me. And they’re her own hopes and dreams, too — to go to college, to have a career. I guess I see her family as a threat to that, I don’t think the values are necessarily the same.”
“Bethany and Brittany, they really are more than foster kids to me,” she says.
■ ■ ■
Upstairs in Cathy’s home a month later, the carpeted hallway is littered with clothes, overflowing laundry baskets and plastic bags for garbage and recycling. It’s October 2009 and the sisters are cleaning their rooms for the yearly health department inspection.
“Bethany, do they check your closet?” Brittany yells from her bedroom, where two, unstacked twin bunk beds have disappeared under mountains of stuff piled two to three feet high. Her older sister yells back that yes, they do.
A gold Mardi Gras mask hangs on the corner of the mirror. Brittany felt the urge to decorate it one day, writing words with a black permanent marker. On the outside, she wrote words from her past: “Alcohol, abuse, pain, fear, depression. Moms being romanticized. Drinking. Suicide. Drugs. Twisted love.” On the inside, things that she wants for the future: “A safe home, food, peace, love, a family, friends.”
“People can see the outside, negative things,” she says. “But it’s only you who is on the inside.”
Meanwhile, in the bedroom kitty-corner to Brittany’s, Bethany tucks her blue comforter in around her twin bed. The drama with Cathy has quieted, Bethany says. She was seeing her family without Cathy’s permission, but she got in an argument with her brother about the past and decided it wasn’t worth it. She told Cathy everything and promised not to sneak around anymore.
When the health inspector arrives about an hour later, the sisters lead her up the carpeted stairs into their bedrooms.
“Is it safe for me to go up there?” Cathy calls up from the bottom, only half-joking. She likes things clean, and the teenagers aren’t always up to her standards.
They call her up, and the girls watch the inspector peek in their closets and look at their beds. Cathy watches, smiling. Brittany and Bethany are the 16th and 17th foster children who have lived in her home, and she’s not sure if she’ll have more after them.
“Maybe, but only after Brittany finishes college,” she says. “I want them to get on with their own lives, but during college I know it meant a lot to me to have a place to come home to for Christmas and Thanksgiving. I want them to think of this as their home.”
Cathy helped Bethany apply to Florida Gulf Coast University and Bethany plans to apply to more schools. She’s considering occupational therapy or culinary arts. She’s also trying to get a part-time job.
After the room inspection, the inspector interviews all three women and leaves.
Brittany felt worried when her sister was seeing their biological family, she says, standing in the kitchen, leaning against the counter. Brittany feels distant from her family, comparing her feelings toward them to her feelings about strangers on the street. She’d never wish harm upon them, but she doesn’t feel connected.
If she ever decides to get married, she’ll probably ask Cathy’s father, who she calls grandpa, to walk her down the aisle.
■ ■ ■
Everything has changed. It’s just three months later, but the sisters’ lives have turned upside down — especially Bethany’s.
Bethany’s silver Ford Focus is in the driveway of Cathy’s house and four, white plastic garbage bags fill the back seat. Inside, Cathy putters in the kitchen. Her face is pale, and her expression pained.
“Exactly what I worked five years to prevent from happening is happening,” she says, before retreating to her bedroom.
“Abuse ... condemns a human being to a life of feeling separate from other people. ... That these kids survive at all is miraculous.”
— Ruth Gordon, a clinical social worker who works with foster children
Upstairs, dust swirls in the air in Bethany’s room as she crams a wooden jewelry case, DVDs, photographs and stuffed animals into a plastic bag. Suitcases and garbage bags bulge on the floor and every available surface is covered in books and papers and unplugged electronics.
“I’m kind of unofficially engaged and I’m moving out,” Bethany says, as she zips a large, gray suitcase. “It’s not like I don’t want to listen to anything my mom is saying, it’s just that I’m unofficially engaged and I care about this guy.”
She met him her freshman year and he graduated last year. They dated on and off, starting again in November. Trouble started again with Cathy because Bethany wanted to stay out late and see him often. He doesn’t have a car, so she gives him rides to and from work, and helps his family with rides as well. Cathy doesn’t approve.
Bethany didn’t come home for some time in November, staying at his apartment in Golden Gate. Now she’s moving in there, along with him, his mom and his sister and brother.
“I was mad (at Cathy) then, but now I’m not mad,” Bethany says. “This is because I like being with him. It just doesn’t work for me here. It might be the wrong decision, but I’m just going to have to learn I guess.”
She makes trip after trip downstairs, arms full each time. Cathy is in the kitchen, but they only say a few words, the air tense. Brittany is in her room, using her computer and listening to music with the door closed.
On one trip, Bethany grabs a blue duffel that says “My stuff” on it in screen print letters. It’s a bag that the Department of Children and Families gave to her when she was first taken away. They give them to foster kids so they don’t have to use garbage bags.
Bethany needs a lot more than one bag to pack up the last five years of her life.
■ ■ ■
Garrah, the JROTC instructor at Golden Gate High, has caught wind of what’s going on. At the beginning of Bethany’s class the next day he calls her into his office.
“Now that you’re out of the house, now that you’re there with your boyfriend, it’s the second half of the year,” Garrah says. “You’ve been here for three and a half years, are you going to make it?”
“Yes,” Bethany says, and her fair skin flushes a little. “I still really, really, really want to finish high school.”
She’s sitting in a chair facing his desk. He continues, his eyes focused on her face. She’s reverted back to some of the attitude problems she had freshman year, he says. He was ready to kick her out of JROTC this year, but he didn’t want to. She has to shape up.
Bethany agrees. She admits that she wasn’t behaving. He asks who pays for her gas and insurance (she does), if she’s well taken care of (she says she is) and what her worst grades are (4 C’s).
“I’m not giving up on you if you’re not giving up on you,” he says. “... I just want to make sure you get out of here and you graduate.”
“My hope is to break the chain, so no matter what, I will,” she replies. She says she’s learning to do the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for college and plans to apply to Edison, since it’s free with her former foster child tuition waiver.
“There’s one more thing,” Garrah says. He pauses.
“Don’t. Get. Pregnant,” he says it slowly, with space between the words. It’s forceful, but also kind. Bethany’s cheeks turn bright red.
“I’m not going to get pregnant,” she says. “I’m not. I’m not going to get pregnant.”
“There’s nothing that will derail you as quickly as that,” he says.
She laughs nervously and looks down in her lap, face still flushed.
“I’m not, I’m not,” she says, shaking her head.
“I’ve seen too many people go down in flames,” he says. “I’m not ready to run around and play granddad with you. I just want the right thing for you. You’ve come too far.”
“Yeah, you and first sergeant are the closest I’ve had to dads,” she says.
A few moments later, she leaves his office to go speak with her guidance counselor about applying to Edison. The office door closes behind her and Garrah stands up, takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. His face is flushed, too.
“Ohhh wow,” he says, letting out a big sigh. “It’s heartbreaking sometimes, being a teacher. I hope things are OK. I’m happy because she hasn’t been like this for months. It’s been bad.”
■ ■ ■
It’s strange that Bethany doesn’t live at home, Brittany says. She’s sitting on the couch in the living room of the home where she lives with Cathy, alone now. It’s a Friday afternoon in January 2010. She’s wearing a yellow polo shirt and a necklace, straight blond hair in a bun with flyaways framing her face.
She and Bethany don’t talk as much anymore, though they see each other at school. Brittany misses her sister.
“I’m really excited for her and I’m really proud of her that she made it to 18 without a lot of the kind of things that could have gone wrong,” Brittany says. “... She’s going through that whole, ‘I’m 18 phase, I’m independent and I’m ready to be on my own.’ And of course I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but she’ll have to find out on her own, and for a lot of teenagers that doesn’t really turn out too well. I’m hoping that’s not the case.”
Part of her wants to lock Bethany in a room and never let her leave, Brittany says, laughing. But she knows she has to let her sister go and that it’s time for her to focus on her own life, not just on Bethany.
This 16-year-old sounds like the parent of a teenager, not a teenager herself.
The garage door creaks open and a moment later Cathy enters the house. “Hi mom,” Brittany calls out, and Cathy joins her on the couch. They talk about what to have for dinner.
Meanwhile about four miles away in Golden Gate, Bethany parks her car in the apartment lot, opens the door and walks into the living room, calling out “Hi Ma,” and looking for her boyfriend’s mother.
You can hear a group of people outside on the patio and smell that they are smoking. Bethany, who doesn’t smoke, sits on the sofa, which is covered with a sheet. Two little dogs, a white one and a black one, come running to say hello.
The sofa, a worn love seat and a flat screen TV nearly fill the small living room, which is connected to the kitchen and dining area. The carpet is worn and stained, and the walls are apartment white, but there are also home-y touches: Decorations on the walls and photographs on the end table of her boyfriend and his siblings, and a print of Bethany’s senior picture.
She filled her car with stuff and brought it here, but she’s going to have to get rid of some of it because there just isn’t room.
She talks about how excited she is to be living with her boyfriend’s family. She’s wearing a dressy sleeveless shirt with a belted waist, jeans, and her hair pulled back into a low ponytail. She’s more talkative than usual, open and chatty.
After asking permission, she gives a quick tour of the house: opening the door to the sister’s bedroom and the “girls bathroom” downstairs, and deciding not to go upstairs because her boyfriend’s brother has friends over.
“(My boyfriend) has to work a lot, but it’s nice to see him just a little bit more,” she says. “I’m comfortable here.”
Beyond that, she doesn’t reflect on the drastic changes of the last few weeks.
She and her sister want nothing more than to succeed, but now, as always, nothing is definite.
Everything is unknown.
BY THE NUMBERS
» 500,000 kids in foster care in the United States
» 20,000 foster kids age out each year in the United States
» 25 percent of former foster kids have been homeless by age 22
» 60 percent of female former foster kids have children by age 22
» 54 percent have finished high school by age 22
» 83 percent can’t support themselves by age 22
» 25 percent of former foster kids are incarcerated within the first two years of legal independence
» 25.2 percent of former foster kids suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, nearly double that of U.S. war veterans
ON THE WEB: Annie E. Casey Foundation: aecf.org
Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Casey Family Programs and Northwest Foster Care Alumni, University of Chicago