In a perfect world, all children would grow up safe and secure. They would feel protected and loved in their home. They would be free to explore the world around them and discover who they are and what they want to do with their lives. In a perfect world, no child would be sent to live with strangers, but it’s not a perfect world, as Shannon VanderArk of Mt. Vernon knows. Here is her story.
A CHILD OF ABUSE: The abuse began when she was just four years old. For three years, Shannon endured severe abuse from her mother’s boyfriend.
A YOUTH OF FOSTER CARE: She was eventually removed from her home and placed into foster care, where she moved from home to home. Filled with anxiety and hopelessness, she felt unloved and unwanted.
A TEEN OF PROMISE: Shannon was finally placed with a family that would prove to be her final foster home. With this foster family, she finally found the love, safety, and support that helped her begin the journey of healing.
A WOMAN OF RESTORATION: Supported by her new family and their church, Shannon learned to trust again. She finally had a chance to heal, overcoming the trauma of her childhood and becoming the daughter, wife, and mother she was meant to be.
By the time she was 11 years old, Shannon had been in countless foster homes. She recalls carrying everything she owned in a black trash bag and feeling like nothing was permanent. Any time she settled into a foster home, she was told to gather her things and get ready for yet another move. “I didn’t know where I would be sleeping next, or what school I would attend, or what city I would be living in,” she remembers. The moves resulted in frequent school changes, leaving huge gaps in her academic and social development. At a time when most children are having slumber parties, playing sports, or learning to play an instrument, Shannon was worrying about where she’d sleep that night.
Her history of abuse combined with the trauma of many foster care placements led to an emotional detachment from life. Feeling rejected yet again, her social worker informed her that if this new placement didn’t work out, her next stop would be a group home for foster teens.
Luckily, the home of Don and Trish Herzberg was different. Shannon remembers thinking that their home was the most beautiful place she had ever seen, but she didn’t know it would be a turning point in her life. It was here that Shannon found the love and acceptance she so desperately needed.
Though the journey was not always easy for the Herzbergs or for Shannon, somewhere along the way Shannon says she began feeling her heart change. Slowly letting go of her attachment to a traumatic past, she started to herself through the eyes of her new, loving family. Though Shannon was never able to be officially adopted by the Herzbergs, she remained in their home throughout her teenage years and continued to receive the unconditional love, safety, and structure she never experienced as a child. By gradually releasing her past, Shannon was able to become a loving wife and mother, successfully breaking the cycle of generational abuse that is common to many foster children. Hers is a story of hope and an example of how one family can make the difference in the life of a child.
Shannon’s foster care story has a happy ending, but not every foster teen’s story ends this way. The older a foster child is, the harder it becomes to find a home in which they get the love, stability, and support they need to address their past and move forward in a healthy way. Their placement in an overburdened system often leads to additional trauma, and many foster children age out of the system without ever getting support they need to succeed as an adult.
All children deserve the opportunity to be part of a family that can help them heal. Will you consider becoming one of these families?