My family is rooting for you. And not just because you represent our country, but because you represent us. My two little daughters sit next to me and cheer for you because just like you, they spent part of their young lives in foster care.
My girls know that you are not just physically strong, you are mentally and emotionally tough. You have been through one of the hardest experiences life can throw at you, and you have been resilient. You have also found a way to stay tender, to be open to loving and trusting the family (your biological grandparents) that adopted you and gave you the stability you needed to pursue your dreams. You have proven that with hard work, determination and support, former foster kids can be anything they want to be. They can even win gold at the Olympics.
You have not let foster care define you. When you talk about it, it is clear that it is something that happened to you, but it is not who you are. The choices of adults didn’t determine your value. You have always had the potential for greatness, even as a child in “the system.” Just like my girls. Their worth was not diminished by spending time as wards of the state. All the days they spent in foster care, they were still important, still becoming young women of substance, of value. Their lives were not on pause while caseworkers figured out what to do with them. Their story was always developing, always pushing them towards love and family. Just like your story.
Thank you for shining a light on the abilities, the potential, the strength of kids who come through foster care. You could have tried to hide this part of your story, but you didn’t. You faced it head on and have been willing to deal with the insensitive comments and scandalous headlines. Thank you. I can only imagine how hard it has been, but I want you to know what you’re doing matters. It matters to two little girls who need to know that the choices of adults don’t define them. Carrying the label “ward of the state” doesn’t have to define them. They are not throwaway children or forgotten children or problem children. They have all the potential in the world, but they need safety, stability and love to get them moving toward their goals. Thank you for encouraging them to dream big and not feel limited by their history, but empowered by their story.
I hope there’s a caseworker out there today, watching clips of you and thinking of the toddler on her caseload and wondering– what will her life be like? What is she capable of? Are we doing our best to get her the support she needs? I hope there’s a visitation worker watching you achieve your goals and thinking about the fifth grader she shuttles back and forth to visits. Maybe this will enlighten her about just how strong foster kids can be and how seriously their needs should be taken. I hope there are grandparents reading about how your mom and dad stepped in to raise you and thinking that just maybe they can do the same for those grandkids of theirs, struggling to find a place to land. I hope there are moms and dads answering questions for their own kids about foster care because they all saw your story. I hope those kids are pestering their parents about what their family could do to help kids just like you once were. Just like my girls. And I hope those parents are having big conversations tonight about the needs of children in their community.
Who knows what kind of far reaching impact your willingness to be open about your life will have? You have opened the door to more people hearing about foster care and seeing these children in a new light. I remember when we first started fostering how friends and family would almost be surprised at how “normal” our foster kids were. They would look at us and say, “Oh! I could do THAT.” because we were just a family. Just a mom and dad loving their kids. I hope that will be the impact of your story. I hope families will see your story and decide that maybe they too can be part of the solution.
Obviously not all foster kids are going to be Olympic athletes and we should never get involved with foster care because we’re hoping to raise a star. But how many kids COULD do something amazing, if they just had the support they need. If they just had stability. If they just had a family that believed in them, caseworkers fighting for them, lawyers and judges looking out for their best interests. I think we might be surprised how much potential is stuck inside that system, where kids can come to believe they don’t have value. We have to change how they see themselves by changing how society sees them. You have done something beautiful by helping move us in that direction.
Simone, you are an inspiration in so many ways. Thank you for being someone my girls can look up to and for being the role model they need. We’ll be cheering for you.