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Actress Angela Featherstone starred in popular TV shows like Friends and Seinfeld over the last two decades, but behind the scenes she was battling scars from a painful childhood.
“I would characterize the first 16 years of my life to be abusive physically, emotionally, psychologically and, in the end, sexually abusive,” Featherstone tells Yahoo Life. “At the very least, there was criminal neglect on a consistent basis, and lots of abandonment.”
At 16, Nova Scotia native Featherstone was put into the foster care system in Canada, an experience that shaped her life and, in many ways, deepened her trauma. Today, she is an outspoken advocate for children in the system and the founder of Fostering Care, a nonprofit organization that is committed to healing young adults (18-21) who are aging out of the foster care system. The program consists of a three month course during which students receive a teaching certificate in a healing modality, such as meditation, breath work or yoga. Additionally, the program hosts guest lectures on topics like nutrition, drug dependency and various life skills.
Featherstone knows firsthand how crucial these healing tools can be for youth transitioning into adulthood from foster care. She remembers being put in a group home at 16, and witnessing sexual activity, violence and drug use, while experiencing a lack of proper food and care. “I kept getting put in these group homes and I kept running away because I hated the group homes. They were really bad and I didn't feel safe there, and so I kept leaving,” says Featherstone.
But on the streets, she found herself facing even darker threats.
“I was being trafficked, I was just being raped all the time. I wasn't getting any money and I wasn't standing on any street corner. It was different than what I had imagined in my head of what it was,” says Featherstone. “I had not sensed that it could be so subtle, as it could happen to you and you don't even realize it's happening to you.”
This year, more than 23,000 kids will age out of the child welfare system, and many will face threats like homelessness, incarceration or trafficking. Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere consistently report that 50 to 90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system — something Featherstone believes is based on systemic issues that allow the dark world of sex trafficking to thrive and target the most vulnerable youth.
“I just see this image of foster care being like those holding pens for the cattle before they get slaughtered: The slaughtering is basically turning 18 in the state of California,” says Featherstone. “The foster-care-to-pedophile pipeline is alive and well.”
Featherstone was eventually picked up by police, arrested and charged with "immorality," which she later learned was prostitution. At 17 and a half she begged the judge to emancipate her, which he did, and with her newfound freedom she borrowed money from a friend and took a bus to Toronto. In less than a year she had become one of Canada’s most in-demand models, eventually moving to New York City to expand her career.
Soon, Hollywood came knocking, and in addition to hit TV shows, she landed roles in films like The Wedding Singer and Con Air. Despite her success, Featherstone says she started drinking and struggled to find solid ground.
“I was at the peak of my career as an actress, and a couple of really difficult instances happened at work, and I did not have the infrastructure to handle them. When they happened, I just collapsed and sought the comfort in homelessness,” says Featherstone. “I became homeless. I literally threw all my money away on anybody who would take it. I just wanted to start from ground zero again.”
Featherstone says she carried around a childlike sadness and often questioned why her youth had been so traumatic. In 2011, she went to UCLA's writing program and started penning a memoir. Featherstone has since shared her experiences with sex trafficking and forgiveness in essays. By 2016, however, Featherstone suffered another setback in her healing, and that moment would start aligning her painful past with her purpose.
“I had a really hard year and I almost didn't make it. I almost killed myself. It was so painful,” she tells Yahoo Life. “It was time to really heal the core wounds. And it was so excruciating.”
Through different therapies, yoga and writing, Featherstone says she discovered her purpose in helping young adults who have survived the foster care system. In 2020, she started developing the framework for Fostering Care, which includes teaching healing modalities intended to balance the mind, body and emotions.
“I've been interested in working on codependency, working on becoming individuated, and also working on intimacy and vulnerability skills. If you've had all of your physical, mental and emotional boundaries completely ignored, or completely violated, most often, it's very difficult to ever really have a truly prosperous life,” says Featherstone.
Featherstone hopes to help young adults see their scars and heal with love. She wants them to go back into their communities more whole and prepared to become vital contributors to society who can in turn help others to heal — just as she has done.
“Had I been loved ... had I been receiving all of the things that every child so rightly deserves, I never would've left my hometown," she says. "I never would've had that huge drive to get out of where I was and to change my life and to change the world.”
—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove