I met Liz Sutherland in the Twitterverse, as I recall. She liked one of our tweets and I reached out to her to learn more about her work in the world. I learned a bit from reading her website, No Ordinary Liz, and came to discover that she wrote a story about navigating the foster care system and is doing all kinds of advocacy for foster kids. I asked if I could share a bit of her story with our community and she graciously agreed to be interviewed.
Liz is very passionate about the well-being of children in general and is a contributor to the book, Growing Up In The Care Of Strangers. She is also a contributor in “Foster Care Manifesto: Defining the Alumni Movement. In her free time, Liz enjoys volunteering in her community, taking spontaneous road trips to new and adventurous places, blogging, meeting new people, being out on the water and simply enjoy what life has to offer.
Can you share a bit about your story while in foster care?
I entered foster care at the age of 13 and was immediately separated from both of my siblings. We all went our separate ways. From the time I entered care until I aged out at 18, I had been in between 10-12 different foster homes/group homes and at least several different schools. After 8 years, I was reunited with my sister. It was a pretty neat experience. We both were attending the same university and didn’t even know it! After 13 years, I was reunited with my brother at a New York Airport.
What was the most surprising thing you took away from your life as a foster child?
How people label you as an orphan or foster child. It seems when people hear those trigger words, they automatically assume that we are/were the worst kids on the planet. To this day, I never fully understand it. I believe people need to be educated on it. We need more success stories of those who did succeed in the system to help break the barrier of what we think is considered to be a “normal” kid. At the end of the day, we all want a normal and awesome life, regardless of what we have been through. Kids who grow up in this type of environment should know that this is no fault of theirs so they can move on.
How did your childhood help you get to this point in your life?
I always say, if I had to repeat my life over again, I would do so in a heartbeat. I believe it has defined me, characterized me and made me into the strong and independent woman I am today. We all are looking for our purpose in this world. This is mine. I get to be a voice for those who can’t speak their truth. I lived through it and ended up persevering and growing stronger. I want others to know that they can also have such an experience. It’s pretty amazing to be an advocate and watch it affect so many people. While I’m inspiring others, little do they know, they are inspiring me.
Do you keep in touch with any of your foster families?
No, I don’t. I feel like those individuals are part of my past now. While I appreciate them opening their homes to me and given me a chance, I feel that the kind of relationship one would like to have wasn’t there. At least for the right reasons.
Tell us about your contribution to the book, Growing Up in the Care of Strangers.
I’m an author of a story in the book, Growing up in the Care of Strangers. Eleven former child welfare clients share their experiences, insights, and recommendations for improving services to and the outcome of children in foster care, orphanages, juvenile justice and mental health placements. Now we are college-educated adults who work with, or on behalf of, children in placement. We share our individual and collective wisdom questions current “best practice” and offers alternatives.
What advice can you share with people considering how they might be able to support foster kids?
Do it for the right reasons. You always have to have a good heart to help support any cause. If this is a topic that you aren’t familiar with, but want to help, educate yourself. As much as I hate to admit it, these kids are sensitive and rightfully so. They have/are going through a lot! If anything, they need stability. Something tangible that they can hold on to and to give them any sense of hope and the comfort that there could be a good life for them out there.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope that I can continue to share my story and bring more awareness around the foster care system. Help educate people. Continue to exceed at advocacy. My lifelong dream has been to write a book. I hope to have it completed within the next six months.
If you met someone who is contemplating becoming a foster parent, what one thing would you share with them?
At the end of the day, we all want to love and be loved. If you want to experience a love like no other, love a child in foster care!
— Dennise M. Kowalczyk – Development & Communications Director