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Perspectives from a former foster kid – introducing Nathaniel Christopher

My name is Nathaniel Christopher. Nice to meet you!

I am a cat-owner and journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I am also an alumnus of the foster care system, the son of an adoptee, and the brother of an adoptee. Kevin and Amanda wanted to include a voice from the foster care perspective on this site and kindly invited me to contribute on a regular basis.

Like many former youth in care my life was profoundly influenced by both the foster care system and adoption.

Nathaniel in front of Harewood School

Nathaniel in front of Harewood School

My first posts will be of a more personal nature. But over the coming weeks and months I intend to use this space to highlight the stories and perspectives of former youth in care, and other allies of the alumni movement.

The youth in care alumni movement, or simply the alumni movement as it’s called, seeks to forge a meaningful voice and identity for people who grew up in foster care after they leave the system. This movement seeks to reinforce an identity and community independent of the traditional realms of foster care such as government and non-profit protection agencies which generally act on behalf of youth in care but lack the voice of those who grew up in the system.

I hope to challenge the negative media portrayal of youth in care who are often presented as statistics, victims, criminals and so forth. I intend to investigate what former youth in care doing to change the system, their lives, and society. I also want to find out who is helping them, and why. Furthermore, I hope to explore some of parallels between this movement and the adoptee rights movements.

Although I grew up in foster care I was never adopted. My name was never altered and I am grateful have access to my original birth certificate. I know my own story and on my mother’s side of the family I can identify most of my ancestors going back several centuries.

As a youth in care my childhood was very unstable and I derived comfort and meaning from the knowledge of my ancestral ties. It allowed me to connect with something larger than the sum of all my shortcomings and limitations. The knowledge of my heritage helped ground me and served as a placeholder for experience, wisdom, and confidence.

It’s somehow fitting that I’m writing this post at a coffee shop in the heart of Harewood which is a neighbourhood in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I grew up here and if I go down to the library I can dig up old birth certificates, death certificates, and land titles that show at least five generations of my family spent at least a part of the lives in this neighbourhood.

For most of my life, however, I knew nothing of my paternal ancestry. I was told my father was born and adopted in a town on the Alabama/Georgia border in the United States but nothing more. Since it was so easy to find my mother’s roots searching for my father’s roots seemed like an obvious thing to do.

I know now that my late father, who was named Tommie Robert Brooks by his birth mother, was born in Alabama in 1941. He was adopted shortly after birth and spent much of his life trying to access his original records. Unfortunately, he passed away before he got the chance. I never knew my father but always had a desire to understand who he was and where he came from as I believe that his story might reveal something about where I came from.

So, in about 2002 or so I began the eight year battle to access my father’s original birth records. The bulk of that time was just spent figuring out where to go and what to do. With the constant encouragement and help of the adoptee rights community I eventually filled out the right forms in the right court in the right state who, at long last, unsealed my father’s birth and adoption records.

There wasn’t much in that file, but at the very least I got everything that the State of Alabama had kept under lock and key for all those decades. I have a sense of who some of my ancestors were and am now at a point in my life where I am left to answer my hard questions about the kind of person I want to be and what I intend to do with the one life I have to live.

These days I consider every honest revelation about myself in relation to the larger world as important and exciting as an unsealed record.

Okay, I better drink some more coffee now!

About Nathaniel Christopher (4 Articles)
I had a cat named Khan.

8 Comments on Perspectives from a former foster kid – introducing Nathaniel Christopher

  1. Great to read your perspective Nathaniel. In Australia we have a system where adoption does not/ rarely flows from foster care. This does not mean that there is no attention given to permanency, it just means that where reunification is not possible, that long term foster care and third part guardianship (the least intervention from the the department) along with ongoing relationships (where appropriate) with birth family. Kids keep their own name. Identity is such a big issue.

    • Thank you, Love Many Trust Few! I kind of like that approach to permanency. Here in British Columbia I knew many kids who were later adopted by their foster parents. Some were adopted as children, others teens, and even a few who went through the process after they reached the age of majority. While they were the exception I know that many some people within foster care believe that adoption is a logical (and positive) result of placement. It divests the government of many of their obligations and (presumably) gives a child one more stab at a permanent home. It sounds like the policymakers in Australia realise that family placements are not so simple and that you can’t always supplant family, culture, and identity with a few adoption forms. I would be very interested in reading more about this trend in Australia. Could you suggest some links? Thanks again for your comment!

  2. Nathaniel, I’m looking forward to your posts about your experience.
    I was adopted in ’75 from S. Korea with my sister. When I was 17, we were both placed into separate foster homes. I’m interested in your story because I haven’t met anyone who has the adoption and foster care perspective.

  3. Nathaniel, I’m looking forward to your posts.

    I was adopted from S. Korea with my sister in ’75. We were both placed into separate foster homes when I was 17 & she was 15. I’m really interested in your experience because I haven’t met anyone with the adoption & foster care perspective.

    Aging out of foster care was really difficult for me, especially with limited support and guidance. (this was the during the late ’80’s) My relationship with my sister was deeply affected by our adoptive family placement/difficulties and then by the separation to different homes. Reading your story will be helpful in the way meeting other people who have shared your experience helps-just by talking about it.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hey Korea. I’m so glad my post resonated with your own journey which not only bounced you between families, but also countries and an ocean. . In my experience it seems that foster care and adoption were closely linked in that some of my “system siblings”, that is other people who grew up in foster care, would later be adopted by their foster parents. In fact, I once lived with a foster family who I later found out intended to adopt me.

      The transition out of foster care was, in my experience, very difficult. Hopefully our stories will remind policymakers to ensure that the foster kids of today have the proper supports as they age out of the system.

      What supports did you receive?

  4. So happy to have you! 🙂

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