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Re-Writing History: 10 Female Foster Care Survivors Who Thrived

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting women who have made—and are making—history. Foster care is associated with many negative outcomes. Yet, there are so many resilient girls who not only survived foster care but grew into empowered women. Here are 12 of them.

A young woman wearing a graduation cap and tassel blows gold glitter toward the camera

We know that experiences in foster care are associated with negative outcomes.

Since the 90s, we’ve understood that trauma has a lasting effect on peoples’ lives, especially when that trauma happens at an early age. Children in foster care often endure hardships before, during, and after their placements.

Research has shown that children in foster care are significantly more likely to have experienced multiple ACEs compared to children not in the system. The impact of these experiences is profound, affecting not just emotional and psychological development, but physical health outcomes across a lifetime.

Despite the increased risks and challenges, many foster care survivors harness their experiences to cultivate extraordinary resilience, drive, and compassion. Here are 10 resilient girls who grew into women who have helped shape history.

Simone Biles holds up a gold medal

1. Simone Biles

Simone Biles was three years old when she and her siblings entered the foster care system. Thankfully, Biles had the support of her extended family, and she was adopted by her grandparents at the age of six alongside her little sister, Adria.

At 26 years old, Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history with 30 medals, 7 of which are Olympic medals. Biles released her first book in 2016, and her story is an inspiration to anyone. But, it’s especially moving to see what’s possible when foster care and kinship care are done right.

Oprah Winfrey sits with Barack Obama

2. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey was born to a single teen mother in 1954 and raised in kinship care by her grandmother until age six. She faced numerous challenges in her youth, including extreme poverty, abuse, and neglect.

Despite these hardships, Winfrey's resilience and determination propelled her to become one of the most influential media moguls, talk show hosts, and philanthropists in the world. Her contributions to society extend beyond entertainment, as she has been a powerful advocate for education, women's rights, and social justice.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Edith Sampson at United Nations in New York

3. Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt experienced a tumultuous childhood, including the loss of both parents by the age of ten. She was then raised in kinship care by her grandmother.

Roosevelt overcame personal tragedy to become a First Lady known for her advocacy for civil rights, human rights, and women's empowerment, leaving an indelible mark on American and global history.

Marilyn Monroe leaning on a window sill

4. Marylin Monroe

Marylin Monroe was born in 1926 to a single mother (which was only six years after 19th amendment granted women the right to vote, by the way). Her mother struggled with social ridicule and mental health issues, and Monroe ended up alone. She never knew her father, and she lived in over ten different foster homes and orphanages before the age of sixteen, when she married James Dougherty.

Before her early death at 36, she built a successful acting career and became an international icon. She was nominated for and won various film awards, and her position as a successful woman in media influenced many other women to pursue careers in acting in the 50s and 60s.

Tiffany Haddish on SNL

5. Tiffany Haddish

When Tiffany Haddish was nine years old, her mother suffered from severe brain damage in a car accident. Mental illness, institutionalization, and medications followed, which changed her family’s life. Haddish jumped between three foster homes and two group homes before eventually living in kinship care with her grandmother.

Despite a tumultuous childhood, Haddish has risen to become a successful comedian and actress, known for her breakout role in "Girls Trip" and her stand-up specials. Her journey from foster care to Hollywood success is a testament to her resilience and talent.

Maya Angelou speaking at a podium

6. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born in 1928. Her early years were marked by upheaval and personal trauma. After confessing that she was a victim of childhood sexual assault, her abuser was killed. Believing she was responsible, she stopped speaking to anyone but her brother from the ages of 8-13.

Despite these challenges, Angelou transformed her life experiences into powerful literary works. Her autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," among others, showcases her journey from silence to becoming a voice for the voiceless, illustrating her resilience and the power of self-expression. Angelou's legacy as a poet, writer, and activist continues to inspire generations.

Coco Chanel sitting at a desk

7. Coco Chanel

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel was born in 1883 in France. Her mother died when she was 11, and she spent her early years in an orphanage, where she learned to sew, a skill that propelled her future in fashion.

In her lifetime, Chanel transformed women’s fashion, encouraging women to do away with uncomfortable clothing. She became the pinnacle of the fashion industry, introducing the world to iconic fashion statements, such as the little black dress and Chanel No. 5 perfume. She redefined women's fashion, becoming an emblem of elegance and liberation in women's wear.

Cher performing

8. Cher

Cher's early life was characterized by financial difficulties and family instability, which led to her spending time in a care facility as her mother worked to improve their situation.

These experiences did not deter her; instead, Cher used her talents and determination to forge an extraordinary career in music and acting. Known for her distinctive voice and dramatic flair, Cher has achieved immense success, becoming an icon of resilience and versatility.

Victoria Rowell smiling

9. Victoria Rowell

Victoria Rowell's journey began in foster care, where she spent her childhood before aging out of the system. Finding refuge and passion in dance, Rowell's early experiences did not define her future.

She transitioned into acting, becoming known for her roles on television while also advocating for foster care reform. Her work off-screen, particularly her advocacy for foster children, is inspired by her own experiences, highlighting her commitment to giving back and supporting those in similar situations.

Today, Rowell is an award-winning actress, writer, and director, as well as a New York Times bestselling author.

Regina Louise smiling

10. Regina Louise

Regina Louise navigated a challenging path through over 30 foster homes and psychiatric facilities, confronting a system that often felt indifferent to her needs and potential.

Her resilience in the face of these obstacles set the stage for her later work as an advocate for foster youth. She is an author and motivational speaker who has dedicated her life to advocating for foster children. Her memoir, "Somebody's Someone," recounts her harrowing experience in the foster care system and her unwavering hope for a better life.

Three women celebrating at the top of a hike with a beautiful view

Final Thoughts: Empowering Women to Achieve Greatness

These remarkable women exemplify resilience, talent, and determination. Their stories highlight not only their individual achievements but also the broader potential of those who start life with the odds stacked against them.

With support, understanding, and opportunity, foster care survivors can and do become influential figures in various fields.

As we celebrate these remarkable women, it's crucial to remember the systemic changes needed to support the next generation of foster care survivors. By understanding the impact of ACEs and advocating for trauma-informed practices, we can begin to dismantle the barriers that foster youth face and pave the way for more stories of success and empowerment.

To learn more about trauma-informed practices and how they can transform lives, especially for those in foster care, download our comprehensive and free Guide to Implementation. We can make a difference in the lives of many, fostering a world where every child has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.


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