Placing children in foster care can be an incredibly disheartening decision for a social worker or children’s advocate. Though they are being removed from homes where they suffer abuse and neglect, being in the foster care system can make it feel like the odds are already stacked against them. Every year, an average of 650,000 children are placed with foster families. They remain for an average of two years until they are adopted, age out of the system, or their biological parents regain the right to raise them. Over 80 percent of these children suffer from emotional problems, and the common misconception is that they don’t have a very good chance in life. But this is wrong. Some of the world’s most famous celebrities, artists, and thinkers have begun life in the foster care system. Whenever one of these kids expresses doubts about their future, the social worker in charge of their welfare has plenty of examples to give as to why being a foster care kid doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. Did you know that these people were all foster kids, too?
1. John Lennon
After complaining to Liverpool’s Social Services about his living conditions, John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi and Uncle George were given custody of him at the age of four. Lennon never returned to the care of his mother, Julia, who remarried and started a new family. But his Aunt Mimi was the one who taught him to play banjo and instilled a love of music that would eventually lead him to make history as the frontman of the Beatles. Though Uncle George died when he was only twelve, Lennon remained incredibly close to Aunt Mimi for the rest of his life and always credited her with providing him with a stable middle-class upbringing.
2. Marilyn Monroe
Born Norma Jeane Baker, Marilyn Monroe had a sad and turbulent upbringing. Her mother was twice divorced, and the identity of her biological father remains unclear. She was placed in foster care until she was seven years old. She returned to her mother, Gladys, for a short time before Gladys suffered a nervous breakdown. After that, she spent time in an orphanage and a succession of foster homes until she married at age sixteen. Though Marilyn’s years on foster care were difficult, she often credited the feelings of rejection she experienced as a child with her determination to succeed. She went on to become potentially the most famous actress of all time.
3. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was born to a young unwed mother in the 1950s who was pressured to give him up for adoption. He was one of the lucky ones – an infant in foster care who is quickly adopted by loving parents. Paul and Clara Jobs raised their adopted son in California, and in high school, he met Steve Wozniak and began assembling computers. After he founded Apple and became a millionaire before the age of 30, Jobs spent time tracking down his biological family. He remained close to his biological sister, Mona Simpson, for the remainder of his life.
Cherilyn LaPiere was born to an extremely poor single mother who was chronically ill and often unable to take care of her. As an infant, the state placed her in an orphanage temporarily, and when she was eight, her grandparents took custody of her and her sister. Just like many other displaced children, Cher suffered from severe dyslexia which made school almost impossible, and at the time, little was understood about learning difficulties in general. Though her mother eventually regained custody of her, she counts her grandparents as a huge influence on her success as a singer and Academy Award-winning actress.
Social workers quickly learn that every foster kid has their own story as well as their own struggles and challenges. But it can help them a lot to know that many famous people grew up in similar situations and faced obstacles that they might be able to relate to. No matter how dark their past, foster kids have as much chance as anyone else for a bright future, and the professionals who care for them are usually the first people to know how special they really are.
Brent Davis is an avid blogger on social issues. If you’re interested in helping foster kids find hope and success, you may want to consider a degree in social work such as the one offered at http://socialwork.une.edu/.