LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A central Arkansas woman shared how her journey in the foster care system and aging out of it changed with one simple word.
With more than 4,000 children in the Arkansas foster care system, some will be awaiting an uncertain future when they turn 18 years old.
Krystal Watson said she entered the foster care system along with her younger sister at 14 years old.
“I entered the system because of abandonment from my mom and we weren’t going to school and the school noticed it and they contacted The Department of Human Services,” Watson said.
Watson said she had a difficult time in the system after she and her sister were split up.
“I felt as though I wasn’t loved, I was another number, another paycheck and so I was not being heard and I acted out,” she said.
She said that caused her to move to 14 different foster homes in the span of a year.
“I couldn’t focus,” Watson said. “I was angry.”
Watson said she dreaded turning 18 years old and aging out of the system.
Last year in Arkansas, close to 200 young adults aged out of the foster care system which is almost average according to officials with the ADHS.
Watson said when she was 15 years old her life changed when she met Carolyn Tyler.
“When you enter the home they introduce you as, ‘Hey, here is my foster daughter,” Watson said. “But when I came here (Tyler’s home) she introduced me as, ‘Hey y’all, this is my daughter Krystal’.”
The word “daughter” changed Watson’s view on life and herself.
“She taught me to be more confident in myself and take ownership in everything that you do,” she said.
Tyler said she focused on preparing Watson to live on her own.
“Through the independent living classes, it was a constant talk,” Tyler explained. “It didn’t just start but it was a constant talk about what happens beyond 18 years old.”
Watson said she was already working two jobs by the time she turned 18 and when she did eventually age out of the system she was prepared to live on her own and work full time.
“I think for Krystal it was finding the balance and I think a lot of youth who are in that transition, they are still in the system but yet they are forced to assume semi-adult responsibilities,” Tyler said.
ADHS Infrastructure & Specialized Programs Assistant Director Christin Harper said that’s a roadblock many young adults in foster care face, which is why in 2009 a state law went into effect giving those in foster care the choice to extend their stay in foster care until they turn 21 years old.
“As of right now there are 344 youth that are in extended foster care,” Harper stated.
Harper said the new LifeSet Program that launched in September offers those in foster care more support.
“Right now, it’s up in the northwest part of the state, the River Valley area, and the northeast corner of the state,” Harper explained. “They don’t provide placement per se, but they can help you find apartments.”
Watson said she still kept her relationship with Tyler after she aged out.
“To this day she is my mom,” she stated.
Watson said she is now 35 years old and was able to reconnect with her sibling and birth mother over the years.
“We still try to fix that bond and we still are to this day because like I said we have a lot of trauma there,” she said. “So I forgive but I don’t forget.”
Watson said she chose a career path that she could move forward in her life and help children with a similar past.
“I joined law enforcement because I wanted to give back to my community and other children who were dealing with what I was,” she explained.
Watson said she has four children and gives them the love she longed for. Tyler said it’s been amazing to see Watson on her journey with motherhood.
“Despite the trauma she has been through, she’s an excellent mother and I love the way she parents her children,” Tyler said. “She is protective, loving and giving, and I’m impressed with that.”
Watson said she wants others who are aging out of the system to never give up hope of a brighter future.