For many people, what happens to us as a child greatly impacts the person we become as adults. Encinitas resident Joy Singleton is no exception. In fact, she’s a shining example of someone who grew up in challenging circumstances and rose above them to change the lives of others who find themselves in the same place.
Singleton grew up as a foster child after being separated from her parents (both substance abusers) and her sisters at the age of 10.
“I was very sad to be separated from my parents and I was devastated to be separated from my sisters,” she remembers. “I felt like a part of me was missing without my sisters, though I was lucky that I was able to live with a friend from school and her mother, who was approved to take me in as a foster child.” When Singleton was reunited with her sisters at age 15, life got a little easier. She moved into their foster home, which had nine children. She stayed in that foster home until she graduated from high school.
Although her parents were addicts, Singleton still missed them dearly. “Like many foster children, I was glad that I lived in a more stable environment without the chaos, stress and upheaval of my biological family’s home. However, I missed my parents. I was attached to my parents, and I felt heartbroken when the police took us away. Though our home life was stressful, being removed from my parents was traumatic. We were removed because of my parents’ addictions. My dad fought very hard to get sober and has been sober for over 20 years. We are close. I see him every week. He is more than his addiction. (Her mother died at 46 from complications of cirrhosis.) I am more than a former foster child, but it is also an important part of who I am and it informs the work I do.”
Her traumatic upbringing in and out of the foster-care system spurred Singleton to pursue an education with foster-care reform in mind. She went to
“While in college,” she recalls, “I met Professor Rick Barth, who focused on child-welfare issues. He put me in touch with the Youth Law Center, a nonprofit that focuses on reform for children and youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I met with the director of the Youth Law Center in 1995, and she taught me a lot about advocacy.”
Singleton worked in foster-care reform when she first graduated from UC Berkeley and then later at Yale Law School. Today, she and her husband have their own law firm that specializes in representing fire victims, but she’s still passionately involved in foster-care issues.
Singleton believes that the biggest problem in foster care today is simply a lack of foster parents. She explains, “In order to get more foster parents and keep them, we need the foster-care system to place the highest value on supporting the whole family, which includes the foster parents, the foster children and the biological parents.”
Singleton volunteers with several state and national foster organizations such as California Youth Connection and the Youth Law Center, but she wanted to connect with a local organization in her community. She felt Angels Foster Family Network was the natural choice after hearing so many positive things about the organization.
“Angels just kept coming into my life,” she says. “I have a close friend who fostered with Angels, and she was very happy with all of the support she received and was happy with the Angels community of other foster parents. It is impressive that Angels has a high rate of satisfaction from foster families. This is one of the indicators that Angels is doing an excellent job. I know I made the right choice with Angels.”
Singleton is now one of 16 board members for Angels. She believes that one of the greatest reforms to foster care would be to ensure that every child lives in a family setting rather than a group home with multiple foster children. This is one of the core tenets of Angels.
Executive Director of Angels Foster Family Network Jeff Wiemann deeply appreciates Singleton’s dedication to all foster-care issues. “The work Joy has done on the national and state level in foster-care reform and public policy is a huge asset to Angels Foster Family Network,” Wiemann said. “Between our board of directors and leadership team, we have seven people who have served as foster parents and greatly value the unique perspective they bring to the table. When we add Joy’s firsthand knowledge of the foster-care system and experience in policy reform, we have an unstoppable force for positive change. Children in the foster care system deserve nothing less.”
On Friday, May 10, Angels will hold its 20th anniversary Foster Futures fundraising event in recognition of National Foster Care Month. The event will help raise funds to recruit, train and approve families to foster infants and toddlers throughout San Diego County. For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (619) 283-8100, ext. 210. For more general information, go to www.angelsfoster.org.