By Mike Klein
Crystal Williams did not have a regular kid life. She had no father at home. Her baby brother died from sudden infant death syndrome. A grandmother and other relatives helped to raise Crystal and two sisters. Her mother moved the family from Memphis to Atlanta when Crystal was nine, then into and through a series of homeless shelters. By age ten she was in Georgia foster care. No, Crystal Williams did not have a regular kid life. Nearly two decades later she has emerged as a forceful voice for foster care youth.
“Young people need permanent connections,” Williams said when she addressed the Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council last week in a meeting at Emory University Law School. “I can’t begin to describe how detrimental it is to age out of foster care or just be an adult period without people to connect to. Your car breaks down on the side of the road, you don’t know how to change a tire and you realize, I have no one to call; (that) is extremely detrimental.”
Williams is also a Child Welfare Reform Council member, appointed by Governor Nathan Deal specifically because she can speak eloquently and forcefully about what foster youth experience because she was one. “I hear stories like that all the time of young people who come to a place and they realize, wow, I have no one at this moment. My biggest thing is a person should never feel like that. No young person should ever feel like that in any situation.”
Williams spoke to the Council for nearly an hour; the video excerpt below is from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation YouTube channel. The Child Welfare Reform Council website videos section will upload her complete testimony and also segments from others who spoke Thursday.
Williams is a co-founder of EmpowerMEnt, an organization to assist foster youth. Last fall she appeared before a state Senate committee that heard testimony about a proposal to expand the role of private foster care providers. She has written one book, “Stronger, An Inspirational Journey,” and she focuses continuously on how to help foster youth.
“One thing I get a lot is, hey, you were in foster care, get over it,” Williams said. “I totally get that everybody had something difficult happen in their past, everybody had that moment where it was just hard and tough, but I do want to address we are discussing young people who have experienced complex trauma and it’s extremely real for these young people who have been through foster care and it’s going to look extremely different for every young person.”
The mission of the Child Welfare Reform Council is to consider every aspect of children services, including foster care, resources needed by investigators and courts, ideas to address a shortage of foster care homes, and especially, how to continue to assist children who age out of foster care and, theoretically, should be able to make it in the outside world.
“I maintain my connection with my adopted family. They are phenomenal people,” Williams said. “They actually adopted me as an adult. I heard a young person recently say, I’m 17 years old, nobody’s going to adopt me, nobody’s going to want me in their family. It hurts my heart because even if it’s not adoption, young people need permanent connections.”
Click here or click the video to watch this excerpt.
The Foundation’s Criminal Justice Initiative pushed the problems to the forefront, proposed practical solutions, brought in leaders from other states to share examples, and created this nonpartisan opportunity. (At the signing of the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform bill.)