INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine for a moment where you were and what you were doing on your 18th birthday.
Most of us probably have pretty good memories of that day, but for thousands of children in the foster care system, the 18th birthday is when they age out of the system. That means they're legally responsible for themselves and will no longer be looked after by the Department of Child Services or any foster parents.
“I didn't get out until I aged out of the system which was at 18, and even then I was still a senior in high school,” said Renee Larson.
Larson was placed in the foster care system at the age of 13.
Over the five years, she was in the DCS system, Larson said she had a new caseworker every six months — meaning someone new to learn her story without any background or prior relationship.
“Having to reexplain my story. It was just … I got over it,” said Larson.
She said she never knew when she would be placed in a new home.
“It could come at like 11 o'clock in the morning or they would come at like 2 in the morning and you have no luggage and you have all your clothes and pretty much your whole livelihood up to that point all stashed in trash bags, in the Hefty trash bags. it was just so embarrassing because my clothes smelled like trash. Pretty much, I felt like I was trash,” said Larson.
She said on several occasions, while her belongings were being held in the DCS office, cleaning crews accidentally threw her things away after mistaking it for garbage.
“That felt embarrassing because then I had to get new clothes and some of the items, you know, that can’t be replaced, even if it's, like, important family stuff. That was frustrating,” said Larson.
Late last year, actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish, who is also a former foster kid, donated more than 100 suitcases to a Northwest Indiana DCS office through her She Ready Foundation.
She wanted to make sure more kids don’t feel the same way she and Larson felt growing up in the system.
“She’s just an inspiration to a lot of people, especially when being in the foster care system, that you don't have to become a statistic,” said Larson.
Now that she's aged out of the system and starting her own life, Larson said she hopes to follow in Haddish’s footsteps and be a role model and inspiration to others.
“I just say the sky is the limit. Don't pay attention to what the foster parents might say, caseworkers might say, even, like, the judge, but there is a promise. Everybody has a promise in the future,” said Larson.
Renee attended college thanks to 21st Century Scholars, which she said made it possible for her to continue her education.