I am very honored  to interview Ms. Angela Featherston. She grew up in the foster care system in Canada and emancipated from the foster care system at age 17. Then, she pursued her modeling career and became a top model in Canada. She moved to New York and flourished in her career as an elite model. She transitioned into her acting career with roles in well-known sitcoms, such as, “Friends” and “Seinfeld”. She served as a consultant for the Netflix special on trauma, “Cracked Up”. Angela also completed college courses and began a writing career with numerous articles, which have appeared in high profile publications. I read her articles, “God Said No” in Gargoyle magazine (2014) and “Can I forgive the Unforgiveable?” in the Dame magazine (2021). Angela has worked extensively with  mentoring children and advocacy for changes in the foster care system. She also started a non-profit organization, called Fostering Care, for foster children ages (18-21 years), who aged out of the foster care system.

Healthy families and communities are core foundations of raising children in a safe manner.  The child welfare system was developed for the temporary and safe care of children, who cannot live with their families as their families cannot provide adequate care for them. The child welfare system is complex as it interfaces with other systems, such as, mental health care systems and justice systems. The primary pathway through which children enter the child welfare system is through Child Protective Services (CPS). The foster care system is also a key component of the child welfare system.  Foster care placements to keep children safe occur on the continuum of care with placement of children with relatives, nonrelated families, and higher level of care, such as, residential facilities.

According to Child Maltreatment (2019),   2.4 million (2,368,325) referrals of children were screened  and entered into child welfare system nationally through Children Protective Services during the 2019 federal fiscal year. A disproportionately high number of African American and Native American children entered the child welfare system. These marginalized communities also are linked with structural inequities, in terms of poverty, lack of jobs, lack of robust educational and health resources, housing instability and food insecurity, which may contribute to families incapacitation to provide adequate care for children. It is important to note that the 2019 data was collected before the pandemic. The pandemic crises may have contributed to an increase in the number of child abuse cases as more families and communities face a multitude of stressors.

  I admire Angela’s strength in discussing her difficult experiences in the foster care system. I am grateful that she is speaking up about experiences that other children in the foster care system may be experiencing, but, do not  have safe spaces to speak up for self-advocacy. Having worked as a clinical psychologist for county behavioral health system for ten years in the past, I believe that addressing reform in the foster care system is a public health issue. Although, some foster parents receive adequate training in parenting foster children, there are many families who do not receive the necessary training to care for foster children with special needs, such as, mental and physical health issues.  According to  a comprehensive study which looked at trauma, children and foster care (2019) at Concordia University, St. Paul, almost 90 percent of children graduating out of foster care report experiences of trauma. One area of concern that I have seen is lack of foster families receiving training in caring for children with histories of complex trauma. In my experience, there appears to be a higher need for foster families as there are fewer foster families than children who need placement. Although I have encountered excellent social workers in the child welfare system, I also interact with social services practitioners who are assigned too many cases of children to monitor and appear burned out. The pandemic has most likely added incremental stress to the  child welfare system. On another additional note, burn-out rates are likely to be high in the last two years for many people. For example, The California Psychologist publication for Spring 2022 (volume 55, number 2) featured an article, “Burnout: Colleagues Share Their Stories” where a team of psychologists discuss their personal and professional stories of burnout symptoms and strategies of effectively coping with burnout.

During my conversation with Angela, she pointed out the challenges faced by youth in the foster care system. She discussed the lack of infrastructure for foster children after aging out of the foster care at age 18.  Although there are foster families who provide outstanding care for their foster children, certain research findings suggest that foster children aging out of foster care system face numerous difficulties.  According to research by Dr. Fowler and colleagues (2019), about 25 % of youth transitioning out of the child welfare system face high risk of homelessness. The experience of homelessness and lack of family support of transitional age youth (age 18-21 years) are key risk factors for adverse outcomes, such as, prey to human traffickers, higher rates of substance use, mental health issues and entry into the justice system.

Angela also pointed out serious issues in foster care, such as, overmedication of children with psychotropic drugs in foster care. According to Advocacy in Action website, a disturbingly high number of foster children take psychotropic medications than children who are not in foster care.    California Child Welfare Indicators Project reports that 12 percent of children in the foster care system in California were on psychotropic medications from October 1, 2020 to September 31, 2021. Additionally, it is recorded that 3.1 percent of the children in foster care at this time period in California were prescribed anti-psychotic medications. Long term side effects of these medications on a developing child are of utmost concern.

 

This post includes my interview with Angela Featherstone. I found her to be a powerful and a compelling speaker. I was struck by her openness, honesty  and vulnerability in sharing her experiences of trauma and resiliency in her healing journey. Angela demonstrated sheer courage as she discussed her experiences in foster care and a deep desire to advocate for changes in the foster care system. Given her level of success and accomplishment, she does not have to discuss her painful past. Yet, Angela demonstrates determination to make changes to help other young people in the foster care. I admire her boldness in voicing her experiences in foster care which may resemble the experiences of many children in foster care ,whose voices are not heard. I am also very thankful to Jocelyn Kalsmith from Mind Over Media press to arrange my interview with Angela.

Here is the interview with Angela Featherstone

(Anindita Ganguly: A.G.) Please tell me about your work in advocating changes in the foster
care system?
(Angela Featherstone: A.F.) I would probably say that I am contributing to the awareness of how devastating the child welfare system can be. The numerous parasitic pipelines, whether it is the pharmaceutical companies that make billions off the more than 1 in 4 kids on more than 5 psychotropic drugs, the shockingly high statistics of trafficked youth from foster care, the justice system, pedophile pipeline, and just the general hundreds of billions of dollars generated annually from the lives of these near 500,000 kids. I think people know it is not okay, but don’t know what to do about it. I certainly don’t have the answer, but I have an option. And because of my personal experience in foster care and from mentoring a kid for nine years through Kidsave, what is  closest to me is that moment when you are so incredibly vulnerable because you are 18, on your own, but have no idea how to live life. That was definitely my story.

I saw something while in foster care, and through my years as an advocate and volunteer with youth in foster care, that I cannot “unsee”. It’s my truth. It’s my experience and since I’ve had that opportunity, I want to share it for others who are caring but didn’t have the opportunities I’ve had. And, of course, the same is true for these children. Most of them won’t have the platform or space, even, to speak of the horrors and injustices they’ve experienced. With that, I founded a nonprofit trauma-healing intensive for youth aging out of the system. I can see that it will work well with other agencies looking to affect change within the foster care system. We aren’t looking to change the system, we are looking to care for the souls of the survivors. I see what we are doing at Fostering Care more as a path to change and empower the world through the trauma-healing intensive and healing trade teaching certificate program. Once the world begins to see the wealth within these neglected youth, I believe the system will change on its own. That said, our students will graduate with a teaching certificate in a healing modality. We hope to see our graduates go into the community, and the foster care industry; group homes, jails, and back with us as we expand, to teach David Elliot Breathwork, Kundalini yoga, or the nutrition and cooking skills they learned with us – we are healing the healers of tomorrow.

 (A.G. )Please discuss the organization that you created, Fostering Care.
(A.F.)Yes, thank you for asking. For the last 13 years, I’ve been led, somewhat mysteriously, on this healing path. I have  found so many deep, rich healing modalities, healers, and spiritual and religious ways to explore. In the summer of 2020, being torn between the hot, national guard-addled streets of Los Angeles and the love of family in a rather idyllic part of Canada, I chose to stay because I felt that I was meant to give back to this city. Still, I had to commit to something real and great. I had to find a purpose and fast, or there was no point staying in Los Angeles any longer. As I was already involved with the foster care world – through my volunteer work and mentorship of a youth through Kidsave, and because there are many crossover paths such as; my trauma-healing work, the essays that I was publishing on the Heart Gallery, and the foster care to trafficking pipeline, and since I had written about my experience in foster care, I already understood that something so dark could be brought into the light in a creative and transcendent way. I asked all my healers if they would be interested in being a part of the school. Immediately, they all signed on. Within two days, we had staff for the first year, a board, and a pretty healthy advisory board. The last year has been more about learning how to fundraise and fine-tuning what I would consider to be the moral code, the practical guidelines, and our heart mission. We are now fast-tracking to create a pilot semester. All of our semesters or three months long and the youth graduate with a teaching certificate in the healing modality, and I was looking to raise the money to run it for a whole year that I recently pivoted seeing what great interest there is from places such as the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Child and Family Services for these healing services. I feel it is everyone’s advantage for us to open our doors as quickly as possible. This way, everyone from potential donors, major foundations, and government agencies can see what it is we are up to. It can be a bit challenging as it is a little outside of the box. It is basically like three a three-month rehab stint except that it is outpatient five days a week, weekends are optional, and it is solely for creating spiritual, emotional, physical, neurological, health, and overall wellness of the mind, body, and spirit. The intensive also aims at supporting these youth to grasp their autonomy, individuate, and learn how to set healthy, firm boundaries lovingly to sustain that individuality and create a bridge to healthy, prosperous relationships within the world and in intimate relationship. There are also a few practical skills, such as culinary therapy, where they will learn cooking skills and nutrition. There are the Breathwork Teaching Certificate – they will graduate with a healing trade. And, we have recently added a fantastic Dating and Authentic Connection coach. Coach Lee is a master at decoding the mystery of dating, and the rules that would be pretty much unknown to youth aging out of foster care, in a simple and direct way. For many of us we have been in foster care, setting aside all of the trauma, sexual and otherwise, and the abuse of vulnerability, the simple fact is you don’t learn about healthy relationships when you are in foster care. The ultimate goal is to set these youth up for the most prosperous life possible, knowing full well that the entire world will benefit when these youth are in alignment with their purpose. Immediately following our first board meeting we applied for tax- exempt status from the IRS and CA Franchise Tax Board. The CA Franchise Tax Board gave us the status in three days and followed up with a personal call to thank us for creating this program. The IRS, in 2021, a year when most people told us we wouldn’t  get status for at least a year, if at all, give us the status within less than three months. It seems pretty clear to everyone that we need to do something about the 500,000 children in foster care, 80 to 90% of whom will commit suicide, become homeless, or go to prison. 40% of that is within the first 3 years. That’s our demographic – getting them before they fall prey to the system they’ve been adapted to and fortifying them with autonomy, community, and connection.

 (A.G.) You have discussed your experiences of trauma in the foster care system. Please describe your healing journey.
(A.F.) Well, my trauma existed before foster care. Going into foster care was traumatic, as were the life-events prior to it, and then there was the trauma of being in foster care and all of the subsidiary pipelines. I’ve also had trauma as an adult. It was then, when. Became homeless after making tons of money and truly being successful in business, that I realized my unhealed trauma was contributing to poor advocating for myself as an adult. My healing journey all just unfolded not naturally. One thing led to the next. First, I stopped doing all mind- and mood- altering substances. For the first couple of years that I basically just slept and exercised when I could. I read and rested, basically, and went for hikes. I was in a huge detox. Then, slowly I began to come out of it. My friend introduced me to her acupuncturist, and I went to her for a pain I was having in my back and the doctor, Jeannie Khang, quickly diagnosed me I was having blocked energy in my solar plexus area. I had often had digestive and other stomach and intestine issues, so this made sense to me. It was there, while under her pins, that I saw a white veil around me – a shroud as it were, that revealed itself to me as shame. I understood then the meaning of the title of the book, “Healing the Shame That Binds You” . I saw, in fact, that my trauma, my corporal trauma especially, was trapped in my body tightly held – almost like a sarcophagus – sealed with shame. Soon after that, I was led to an Indigenous woman, Shari, who was trained by Maori healer Papa Joe. At each step of the way, I would test the healers to see if they were safe and trustworthy. Immediately, I knew Shari understood me. We did some amazing work together, energetic I suppose, but it was profoundly metaphysical, and we dealt with not only the immediate energies, but she understood and released a lot of the ancestral energies that were surrounding me. Especially, since I had been beginning to tell the truth about my life, childhood, and ancestral lineage. As I began that process of telling my story, the energies of intimidation began to escalate. It can be terrifying to tell the stories no one wants you to tell. Knowing I was seen and supported in the current moment, helped me to continue my journey. Next came a relationship with Kundalini yoga that began with infrequent classes, slowly escalating to weekly, and then by 2019 I was fully immersed and meditating using the Sikh lineage as it expresses itself through Kundalini yoga, almost daily. From 2020 to present day, I’ve experienced a daily practice – in fact 2020 and 2021 I was basically in class all day – doing some type of healing Breathwork, sound healing, yoga, cardio, or meditation. It was then I came across the power of the David Elliot Breathwork technique, and the ultra-healing lineage of Sat Nam Rasayan. I’ve done EMDR with an amazing therapist, and that continues to encourage my body to release trapped trauma, I then found another brilliant acupuncturist whose style was complimentary to Dr. Khang’s, but also unique, that’s Russell Brown who’s also a board member, there’s the important, Rabbi M Finley’s, Wisdom Works and Parenting the Soul of the Child course, blood work testing – to balance hormones, minerals and vitamin – the body goes through some real shifts and changes whilst healing trauma and it requires additional support. Prayer, meditation, exercise, nature, 12-step programs when and as needed, intimacy and vulnerability courses; and always studying the Stoics, mysticism, religions, and poetry… all of these have helped.

(A.G.) I see your resiliency, endurance, and a strong will to move forward. Please discuss how you are resilient and grow from these painful experiences?

(A .F.)Yes, thank you, we talked about this earlier. Its interesting, I don’t identify as being resilient. I feel like I signed up for a very full and impactful life and with that has come great responsibility and heartbreak – at times near devastation, yet an extraordinary sense of destiny and the Grace of God. If I am resilient, it is a byproduct of my ongoing commitment and devotion to the Divine.

 (A.G.)How has your faith in God played a role in your healing and resiliency?
(A.F.)Ah, the Questions are leading into each other! Well for the purposes of clarity, I wouldn’t say I have faith in God. I’ve always had a relationship with God. When I was three was the first time that I was aware of myself as a soul here on a journey – a mission but tethered to something far beyond. Something that I always felt its presence and with whom I frequently silently communicated So, even in my darkest moments, and there were many, some directly self-imposed and others probably subconscious pressure, I knew in some way that suicide wasn’t a real option for me.  I was concerned that I would have to do everything all over again and that was enough to let go of any ideations I was experiencing. It was always in those moments that I felt the Grace of God swoop in and alleviate my pain for long enough that my mind could grasp an elevated plane of thought. That’s all I need. Just a split second to think differently and I am free. After that, if I’m unhappy, it’s a choice and I need to take responsibility for that.

 (A.G.)How do you see God?
(A.F.)You know, I have studied and I’m continuing to study different ideas about God. I don’t know that I have an idea of what God is of my own. I made a decision in 2005 to stay open minded. To let God reveal itself to me. I literally said how could I with my tiny mind understand some things so profound and infinite. I then asked with my heart for the Divine to reveal itself to me and over time, it has been an exquisite journey of revelation. It’s there in that ongoing revelation that I feel an experience similar to what I’ve read from Sufi poets like Hafez, and Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī – an exquisite Divine romance; longing, love, and wise guidance.

 (A.G.) How do you make sense of how a God of agape love can allow so much suffering?
(A. F.)I think there too I’m probably more an alignment of what I’m starting to study – ideas that suffering is a part of the love. I’ve always felt that by overcoming my challenges; healing my trauma and transforming my existence, I am increasing my life force, I begin to vibrate at a higher energy and if that spark of the Divine is, in fact, my soul, as it says in Proverbs 20:27, and I understand is one of the foundational beliefs of Kabbalah, then by increasing my flame I am increasing the fire of the Divine. That’s what I’m here for I believe. The Divine is experiencing itself through my life experience and it is because I choose to show up for this and to praise God and heal my trauma – increase my life force – I am contributing to the expansion of the Divine and all. So, I don’t see suffering as outside of God. It’s neither here nor there. Perhaps, I like the idea that pain is obligatory, suffering is optional.

(A.G.) Please discuss your thoughts and feelings which led you to write, “God said No” in the Gargoyle magazine?

(A. F.) In 2009, I found my first religious teacher, Rabbi Finley. That’s really when my healing began. Well, it really started in 2005 with a powerful dream that included an Indian Chief at the top of a mountain that I flew up to meet. But, once I found this brilliant Rabbi, and started to study with him, things started to flow. I went to a trauma rehab and committed to the healing path I’ve descried above. All the while, on a parallel plane, I began to tell my story. First, it was a photography curatorial that was autobiographical in nature, then began the essays. So much so that I signed up to the UCLA memoir writing program. God Said No was my first essay. Shawna Kenney was my professor. She is the one who suggested Gargoyle and I’m so grateful she did. It’s a prestigious literary magazine and its being published there lead to the Pushcart Prize nomination. The essays that I continue to publish come as a natural part of the healing process – it’s all intertwined; the healing, communicating, and using the emancipated chi to create new worlds.

 (A.G.) What are your thoughts on God being an emotionally charged word because many people have oppressed and hurt others in the name of God?

(A.F.)Those ideas are far above my paygrade. I am not a scholar. I have a GED. All I know is what the Divine is for me – that my life’s work is to serve the Divine by transmuting hardships to joy – as brutal as that can feel. I believe the Divine wants me to achieve bliss through transmutation. That the Divine wants us to keep expanding ad infinitum. Beyond that? I cannot comment on other people’s experience of God. When I try to think of that I inevitably hear, “What if Sisyphus were happy?” Meaning, to me, that my suffering – mental or otherwise, is a decision. I can choose to be happy anywhere. I stay away from arguments about God. My God doesn’t need to be defended. My God is here to be honored. Its enough that I keep constant tabs on myself! LOL. I can’t keep track of other people’s ideas too.

 (A.G.)What is new for you?
(A.F.) Firstly, thank you for creating this space to share such deep and important ideas. You are a blessing to the world. My hope is that people will support fosteringcare.org. We are healing the healers of tomorrow and it’s an investment of great importance, we, at our healing school believe. We have invested our lives to the healing path. We have such a wonderful mix of ideologies, religions, and cultural and ethnic experiences in our healers there. It’s in many ways a healing portal. My journey now continues as I seek new teachers. I was just given a Qur’an by a beloved Muslim friend and have begun to seek new teachers. I think it’s important for the school that I always continue to seek and grow so that I can give even more insight and experience. It also feels like a dive into the mystical places that fascinate and captivate me, whilst having, like Judaism, the deep foundation of ancient language, letters, and law.
To be continued!
Blessings.
Angie

 

CONCLUSION

Angela Featherstone is an amazing and courageous woman. She is bold in her ideas and actions to help foster youth. I am deeply grateful for her generosity in sharing her time and wisdom in doing the interview, despite her busy schedule. I believe that reform in the foster care system is a public health issue.

At the end of our conversation, Angela also pointed out the prominent issue of suicidality in foster youth. I came across an article published by the Suicide Response Prevention Center on educating foster parents to prevent suicide in foster youth. The article indicated that due to various factors, such as, history of abuse and neglect of foster youth, shame and lack of belonging after placement in foster care system and loss of natural support systems such as teachers, friends, other support systems in the community,  foster youth are three times more likely to contemplate suicide seriously and four times more likely to attempt suicide than youth who are not involved in the foster care system. Again, the imminent need for reforming the foster care system.

In summary, I am extremely grateful for Angela to speak up about her experiences in the foster care system, which other children may also experience. She is very passionate about helping foster youth. I wish her much success in her advocacy as she sheds light on a key issue. I see her as a powerful change agent.

Please see FOSTERING CARE for different ways of supporting or donating to the program that Angela is administering to help foster youth.

 

Please note: this is not a therapy site. Please contact medical and mental health professionals as needed.

Interview with Angela Featherstone: Faith, Healing and a Powerful Voice for Youth in the Foster Care system

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