By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Everyone has a story to tell and speaker CJ Fox spent time on Tuesday, Sept. 17 telling hers to a group of social workers, therapist, foster parents and Catholic Charities employees at the Jackson Medical Mall in an effort to help those in attendance connect in a more meaningful way to foster children.
Fox shared some staggering statistics at the event. Only 30% of foster children graduate from high school, while less than 1 % graduate from college. At least 66% end up dead or homeless within the first year of transition out of foster care and 80% of prisoners were once in foster care.
“There is a huge disconnect in the system. Biological parents, the kids … we’ve got to communicate better,” said Fox. “It’s imperative that we all figure out a way to work together to change these odds.”
The odds are something Fox has witnessed firsthand. She began to tell the crowd about an eight-year-old girl and her story of abuse, neglect and fear. Before long, the child was in foster care and moving from home to home. As the story telling went on, Fox noticeably began to change the pronoun she was using from “she” to “I.”
She was telling her story.
After one group home she stayed in, Fox ended up with a foster family who gave her a home and taught her how to read, as she was so behind academically. The family spent time with her and played with her, something that had not happened often before.
“They never asked ‘What’s your story?’ They just loved me where I was,” said Fox. “And I was a hard kid to love. I was anxious. I was nervous all the time. I was short-fused. I would cry if I couldn’t get something right.”
Fox thought they were a family until one day she thought she was being taken to school, but instead she was taken to a courthouse. She was afraid. “Nobody is telling me what is going on … social workers, my Dad was in the back of the room, Mom was up front, cops were all around and a judge,” said Fox.
She urged those in the crowd, “if you can make it developmentally appropriate for the child just try to talk to them about what’s going on. These are the things that are happening, but no matter what happens … it’s all gonna be ok.”
By age 16, Fox had been moved about 30 times. The last foster mom that took her in encouraged her to go to college. Something that seemed unobtainable. But Fox obliterated the odds and eventually graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in education.
Fox attributes some of her success to sports. “I played every sport that I possibly could. If you can encourage your kids to get involved in some sort of sport, band, honor choir or what ever it looks like for that particular kid. Get them in a group to make them feel safe,” said Fox.
“The most important thing was every time I had an encounter with someone that believed in me. They believed in me more than I believed in myself.”
Fox also told the crowd that she has God to thank for guidance as well. One day while studying at Mississippi State, she was walking back to her dorm after history class, which took her past an old abandoned pool behind McCarthy gym.
“There was no water in it. It was just cracked and broken,” said Fox. While walking, Fox was thinking about her life and asked God, “Why me? What did I do? When am I gonna catch a break? … I’m tired.”
God answered. “He said because I have bigger plans for you. … He said that to me in that moment and instantaneously I look to my right and I see a tree growing out of the side of the pool,” said Fox.
“Somehow this tree is making it. … It had broken through the cement and stretched its branches to the sky for life. And I heard, ‘be the tree.’”
So, despite the odds, Fox persisted. She has been a teacher, a mentor, a volunteer, a financial service rep, a sales director, a speaker, the founder of two organizations (the Anunda Project and Unify Human:Kind, the recipient of the community SHEro award and the author of Obliterate the Odds.
In addition to her story and tips on how to bridge communication gap with foster children, Fox did activities with the group of social workers, therapist, foster parents and Catholic Charities employees present. The group did a “love language” exercise and got into small groups to discuss situations that may arise involving the best interest of foster children.
Crisis intervention speciality, Andrew Cambell of Hope Haven home-based services was present at the event. During the group discussion, he offered his opinion that “professionals need to come together so they can collaborate and talk, so that when you are working on a case with a child, you won’t retraumatize [the child].”
Cambell said that a lot of times in the foster system that a child “has given that same information over and over. And the child is tired of it.”
Fox closed the event by thanking all in attendance for being so willing to go on the journey with her and she left with the words that “you can’t reach, rescue or restore every child that is out there, but you can make a difference in the life of one and that is good enough.”
To learn more about CJ Fox and how to determine your role in foster care, visit her Facebook page, Obliterate the Odds.