Students achieve in foster system

Tommy Williams, who grew up in the foster care system, will attend the University next fall. Photo by Lily Price

For Tommy Williams, the road to college has had its twists and turns, but when Williams comes to the University in the fall, he knows his life will be exactly where it needs to be.

Williams, now a second year student at Gainesville State College, worries that if the right people had not stepped into his life when he just 6 months old, things could have been drastically different.

 

He was placed into foster care a few months after he was born into a family plagued by addiction.

“I was very young when I was first taken,” Williams said. “Basically, my biological parents had their drug issues, and there was an incident that involved the police.”

After the police visit, Williams’ biological parents were deemed unfit to care for him, and they were sent to prison.

“My brother and I were taken immediately into foster care by the state,” he said. “And it was a long process, from what my adopted mom has told me.”

Williams’ adoptive mother, Sandra Argo, was a nurse working on the nursery floor when Williams was born. Once Williams and his brother were in the system, Argo was the boys’ foster mother before she legally adopted them a few years later, he said.

“My mom always talks about how she had to really fight for us and wait for us,” Williams said. “And she was so glad she did.”

Williams grew up in the Covington area with his new family.

“My mom and my dad have always taken care of me before I was even actually theirs,” he said. “They pushed me to do more than I would’ve done.”

Freshman Sarah Trites is also familiar with foster care, having spent a little under two years in North Carolina’s foster care system.

As a junior in high school, Trites was taken by the Department of Child and Family Services after they learned her father was unemployed and unable to adequately take care of her.

But she was able to move back in with her father once he was employed, and she said she was lucky to go back to her dad.

“I’m not resentful. I bounce back. For some, the foster system does warp your view of yourself, but I’m just a really resilient person,” Trites said.

Trites’ resiliency shows in her work at the University, and she said she does not think that any hindrance from the foster care system can keep a student from being successful in school, especially in college.

According to Alberta Ellet, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, most foster kids wind up reunited with their families, taken in by relatives or adopted.

However, a small percentage “age out” of the system when they turn 18 — and for these former foster children, the path to a university-level education can be difficult.

“Those who age out of the system usually have poor outcomes,” Ellet said. “A large number may end up homeless, arrested for a number of reasons, and they may be more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse.”

The first obstacle for many children in the system is that they move around so much, Ellet said. They’ve experienced a lot of disruption, and they are usually behind in school or not performing to their full potential.

“It’s somewhat unusual for youth that age out of the system to get into college and then graduate college,” Ellet said. “Some do.” 

But Ellet maintains a positive perspective.

“Most of the kids that come through the foster care system actually do pretty well,” she said.

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