Former Child of Foster Care Works to Fix the System

Former Child of Foster Care Works to Fix the System

Rutgers student Kaysie Getty recognized for her efforts to improve the lives of foster care youth

Kaysie Getty
This fall Kaysie Getty's efforts to improve the lives of foster care youth were recognized by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, which honored her with their Angels in Adoption award and reception in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Courtesy of Kaysie Getty

'There is a need, and I felt as though nobody should have to go through the things I went through. I want to be the person who changes it. I don’t have a choice but to do this.'
 
– Kaysie Getty, Rutgers-University Camden School of Social Work student

Kaysie Getty can’t imagine her life without foster care.

The child of a drug addicted mother and incarcerated father, Getty was born a ward of the state. She spent half her childhood bouncing from home to home, searching for stability and waiting for the day she could extricate herself from a system she describes as broken.

Today Getty is working toward her undergraduate degree in social work from Rutgers University-Camden so she can fix foster care for future generations.

“There is a need, and I felt as though nobody should have to go through the things I went through. I want to be the person who changes it,” said Getty, 25, of Blackwood, who has been living independently for two years. “I don’t have a choice but to do this.”

She started chipping away at foster care’s flaws from the inside, helping found the Center for Family Services’ Youth Advisory Board at 18 and later serving as president. Getty continues her work with the Center for Family Services as its Youth Advocate and helps oversees New Jersey’s county Youth Advisory Boards as a Youth Advisory Board Ambassador for the Rutgers School of Social Work. She also serves as a trainer for Youth Thrive, a multi-year initiative that examines how foster youth can be supported in ways that advance healthy development and reduce the impact of negative life experiences.  This fall her efforts to improve the lives of foster care youth were recognized by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, which honored her with their Angels in Adoption award and reception in Washington, D.C.

Getty credits the shortcomings of the system she was brought up in with grooming her for the work she does today.

“For all those years I didn’t have a voice,” she said.  “I learned what it means to advocate for yourself.”

Getty was placed in her first foster home at five months and adopted by her foster family at 2. She lived with them and her adopted brothers and sisters until she was 14, when reports of physical and emotional abuse ripped apart the only family Getty had ever known.  

She and her siblings were separated and forbidden from communicating. Between the ages of 14 and 21, Getty lived in 12 different placements including foster homes. Each came with a new set of rules, new neighborhood, new school, and, in most cases, new indignities.

“One family would talk about me as if I couldn’t hear them. They treated me differently than their own daughters, and there was abuse going on in the home,” she said.  “Another foster mom would curse us out. One time she dropped me off at what I thought was a respite house for the weekend.  On Sunday when I asked when she was coming to pick me up they said. ‘Oh, she didn’t tell you? This is your new foster home.’” 

Between the ages of 16 and 19 Getty was moved to various placements, including a treatment program in North Jersey, a youth shelter, and a transitional living program before settling into Camden Dreams, a 13-unit facility with 24-hour staff for young adults aging out of foster care who would otherwise be homeless.  Instead of signing herself out of foster care  when she turned 18, Getty choose to use the opportunity to improve her life and the lives of others following in her footsteps.

“There are a lot of statistics out there on youth and foster care,” she said. “Seventy five percent in foster care end up on public assistance, 21 percent get pregnant and the percentage incarcerated is high as well.”

Instead of becoming one of those statistics, Getty set her sights on joining the scant 4 percent of her peers who graduate from college – something she is on track to accomplish in May.

“Every time I think about the fact that I’m graduating this year I want to cry, because I didn’t think this would be part of my life,” she said. “It took me a little longer than usual, but I’m doing it.”

Getting through college comes with its challenges for traditional students, but for those like Getty, who don’t have family to call on for emotional and economic support, the chance of faltering increases, said Kendall Depew, a former liaison for the School of Social Work’s Transitions for Youth program.

“If you don’t have that stability within the household it’s that much harder to have consistency in the other areas of your life,” Depew said.

The goal of Transitions for Youth, a statewide initiative, is to ensure that young adults who are transitioning out of foster care or incarceration develop essential skills and competencies in education, employment, emotional resiliency, decision making and interpersonal communication. Depew was assigned to guide Getty in 2013 when she was struggling academically trying to balance her work and school responsibilities.  

Depew admired Getty’s work ethic and supported her decision to pursue a degree in social work. Together they worked on Getty’s personal statement, qualifications and petitioned professors on her behalf until she was accepted into a program that put her on the fast track to earn her bachelor’s degree. 

“Since then, she’s been flourishing,” said Depew, who now works as campus navigator for the dean of students at Rutgers-Camden. “It’s so great to see the progress she’s made.”

Once she graduates in May, Getty plans to apply to the Advance Standing MSW program. Her unique combination of education and experience should set her apart in her field, said Depew and put her in a position to make some positive changes in foster care.

“She has a clearer picture than anyone else what it’s like to be a part of the system and the changes that need to be made in order for the youth to be successful in life and school,” she said. “I think we need more people like her to make those important policy changes and make her voice heard.”  


For media inquiries, contact Lisa Intrabartola at 848-932-0554 or lintrabartola@ucm.rutgers.edu