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Remaking Foster Care: A Young Mom Struggles After Leaving The System

Doualy Xaykaothao
Christie Wade with her 7-year-old son, Lawson.

KERA’s Remaking Foster Care series continues with two young adults who “aged” out of the system when they turned 18. 

Both are from Dallas, and have received help from CitySquare’s program for former foster kids called TRAC -- the Transition Resource Action Center. On Friday, we'll hear from a young man. This story is about a single mom.

Christie Wade is 21, and has a 7-year-old son named Lawson.

One day, after school, the skinny boy in a gray T-shirt and long jeans, shows off.

“I’m in first grade,” he brags. “It’s the most easiest grade you can have ‘cause when you get into second grade, it’s going to be much harder.”

They live in East Dallas, in a two-bedroom apartment, mostly paid for by the non-profit CitySquare.

“I made a pizza, a pepperoni pizza,” he continues. “It was good enough that she could eat it. I always feed my momma when she’s hungry because she does the same thing for me.”

Christie’s story

At a small kitchen table, next to their TV, Christie says she was born addicted to heroin at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Her in utero drug exposure meant she couldn’t leave the hospital for six weeks. Christie’s mom continued to use drugs. Her dad sold them. Relatives helped to raise her, and two older brothers.

“Growing up without your mother, knowing where she is, knowing what she’s doing. Knowing she has the choice to be with you, or not be with you, and she chooses not to be, it’s hard,” Christie says.

She’s been overweight since she was a child. When kids bullied her at school, she bullied right back. At 12, she attempted suicide, and was hospitalized.

Before her 14th birthday, Christie got pregnant, and was put into state care. She gave birth to a healthy little boy, without a single family member by her side.

"And they took him from me," she says. "That was the worst memory, because that started the behavior, the acting out, and the anger, and the, just not caring about anything. I felt like that had snatched the only thing I had."

During the four years she was in foster care, Christie visited Lawson often. She says she was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. When she turned 18, they were reunited. But life quickly got overwhelming.

“I have a son to live for,” she says. "He’s the only reason why I even go through this, or cry, struggle, ‘cause I could just easily end it. But doing that won’t benefit him. I honestly feel alone. I honestly feel like there's no help or support. I don't feel like no-one cares. And it seems like the people who are kind, I either lose them, or lose contact, or they die... makes you not even want to live."

"I have a son to live for."

Life in foster care

A few days later, sitting at Sonic parking lot, she says her time in foster care was bittersweet.

“I’ve had foster parents that were so sweet, when they first met me, when the caseworker was there," she says. "But as soon as the caseworker left, they turned into satan. It was terrible.”  

But she smiles, remembering one foster mom who gave her a black and yellow snakeskin purse for Christmas.

"And she left the price tag on it," Christie says. "And when I looked at it, I burst out in tears because I couldn't believe that someone had cared about me so much to spend that much money on a bag."

She's lived all over Texas, in more than 25 homes.

Credit Doualy Xaykaothao / KERA News
Lawson is Christie's 7-year-old son. He says he likes to cook for his mom because she cooks for him.

“I’ve been to San Angelo, San Antonio, Houston, Montgomery, Texas, Conroe, Texas, Coleman, Texas, Clyde, Abilene, Houston, Austin, Corsicana, and those are just the ones I remember.”

In a new effort to redesign foster care, the state is trying to keep kids within 50 miles of their community, with fewer moves. Today, Christie says she tries to find strength in both good and bad memories.

“Those experiences made me the woman that I am today," she says. "I do no regret any struggle that I went through. I do not regret any bad foster home that I encountered. I learned a lot from each place that I went to.”

For the thousands of kids that age out of foster care annually, Christie says:

“If you’re 17, 16, in foster care, start saving up now. Get a job. That way when you do turn 18, you'll have something. I felt like if I would have, I would have got out and not been sleeping on my friend’s couches. You get out there and realize it's hard. I have a lot of previous kids that were in foster care with me, that left, and actually called back crying, wanting to come back and go back to the foster home. But once you leave, there’s no point of return.”

Under redesign, foster kids will get more attention through a program called PAL, Preparation for Adult Living. The goal— make aging out of the system a little less traumatic.

Coming up

Our series Remaking Foster Care will conclude Friday with another young man who "aged out" of the foster care system.

Explore KERA's Remaking Foster Care Series

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.