Having spent most of her childhood in foster care, Michelle Prickett chose not to just sit back and enjoy a suburban life with her husband and four children. She became a Foster and Adoptive Parent Recruiter & Coach at Let It Be Us and an adoptive parent of four more children from foster care in Illinois. She brings her unique perspective to illuminate how tragic beginnings can lead to happy endings. Michelle’s story is the latest in our Voices of Adoption series…
Growing Up in Foster Care Inspires Mom’s Mission to Coach Waiting Parents
As told by Michelle Prickett to writer Mary Klest
I kept quiet about my former life as a foster child until I saw it as a window. Kids in foster care who have experienced trauma may exhibit disturbing behavior. When I see it, I’m not reactive or put off by it. I recognize it for what it is, coping skills. These kids don’t have the words to describe what’s happened to them. I didn’t. But now, as both an adoptive mom and Let It Be Us foster & adoptive parent recruiter & coach, I share my story willingly when I believe it will bring some comfort and understanding.
By the time I reached ten years old I had suffered abuse and neglect from my parents. I went to school with bruises on my body and no food in my stomach. I was scared for my life, yet I loved my parents and wanted to protect them.
Someone, I’m not sure who, called the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). I and my twin brothers were removed from the house. I remember feeling glad that this happened. My parents divorced. I was sent to live with an aunt who was a stranger to me and then shuffled from house to house.
One of the reasons I’m glad to be at Let It Be Us is their emphasis on providing resources for parents who want to foster or adopt, in both ways kids are being cared for.
In the early 1980s children had to appear at court custody hearings. I heard my mom say she didn’t want me or my two brothers who are bi-racial. She signed away her parental rights. One day my aunt told me to get the twins ready. We got in a car and went to a house where there were several adults. I never saw my brothers again until 2012 when we were reunited as adults with the help of DCFS.
Potential parents may never know the story of the children they bring into their home. While I help them get their foster care license and direct them to resources, I offer a way for them to create a new legacy by teaching the children how to live rather than just survive. After attending 12 different schools including four different high schools, I quit at age 16. I feared school because it showed how bad my clothes were, how dirty I was. I couldn’t relate to the kids. Home was my cocoon. At 16, I was living with a 28-year old guy and got pregnant. I wanted very much to have a baby, to give her the life I never had. The man didn’t treat me well. He was taking drugs. I could have easily gone down that path, but I never did. When people ask me where I got the strength to persevere, I tell them it isn’t strength. I attribute my survival to not having a mental illness and avoiding alcohol/drug addiction.
I was motivated to keep my baby safe, so I left. I got a job that paid $37.50 a week. I met a nice, clean-cut guy who worked as a paramedic and we married. When I was six months pregnant the abuse started, which I considered somewhat normal. But when he slapped my daughter I became ferocious in wanting to protect her. I left and we were homeless until my neighbors took me in as their nanny. They watched my kids at night while I worked another job. I made a friend who showed me how to better care for myself and my children. She is still in my life. These people saved me. They saw through my behavior and recognized some potential. Others told me, ‘Your life is over, you got pregnant.’
I signed up for GED classes but had to skip most of the classes because I had two children and two jobs. My transportation was a bicycle. I took the GED test any way and scored at a college level! It was eye-opening because maybe there was more to me than I thought.
While taking classes at Elgin Community College I met my husband. We were immediately drawn to each other.
After 27 years of marriage I am in love with him still. His actions showed me how committed he was. He brought me and the children gifts at Christmas and helped me enroll my daughter in kindergarten. He never raised his voice. I felt safe. He continued in school earning a PhD. He’s a high school principal. We had two children together. In 2012 I received my bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University. It was a proud moment receiving a degree with honors as our kids looked on. I felt I was creating a path for them that was beyond being a survivor.
Having work experience at an adoption agency I am in awe of the speed and efficiency in which Let It Be Us can get the word out about children who are in need of a home. When someone shows an interest, I follow up and answer any questions they might have. I offer resources and help them navigate whatever hurdles may be posed. At an agency, my goal was to issue 12 foster care licenses per year. During the last three months at Let It Be Us, 30 people have started or finished the process. That’s amazing.
After three of our children had left for college or work, we had our 13-year old son at home. My husband is active in mentoring, volunteering with youth groups and working on community projects. It was he who started looking into adoption for us. I was hesitant.
When the time felt right, I agreed to take classes for our foster parent license. After being licensed we received two boys aged one and five who had obviously been neglected. When my oldest daughter met them, I watched her lose all her ‘spoiled’ characteristics and become a caring, empathetic person. We learned the boys had a two-year old sister who needed care as well and that the mother was pregnant. I tried to help the mom in hopes she could re-unify her family but that didn’t happen. After two years at our house, we adopted all four of the children. They are 10, 8, 6, and 4 now. They are compassionate, loving children attending an amazing school. I see myself in these kids. I know it wasn’t their fault, just as it wasn’t my fault. Where I once felt shame when telling my story as a foster youth, I now feel blessed.
Michelle is one of the foster and adoptive parent recruiters and coaches you can meet at monthly Let It Be Us “Fireside Chat” events at Barrington’s White House. Click here for the schedule of upcoming “Fireside Chats”, which are funded through a grant from the Barrington Area Community Foundation.
We hope you enjoy learning about foster care in Illinois through Voices of Adoption, a series of stories about love, generosity and kindness. If you or someone you know is curious about how to get licensed as a foster parent in Illinois or support children needing families, click here to donate today, call 847-764-LIBU or visit LetitBeUs.org.