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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, 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 foster care and the founder of Fostering Care, a nonprofit organization that is committed to healing the healers of tomorrow. Fostering Care is geared towards young adults (18-21) aging out of the foster care system and consists of a three month course where students receive a teaching certificate in a healing modality like meditation, breath work or yoga. In addition to professionally trained staff, the program also hosts guests lectures on topics like nutrition, drug dependency and other life skills.
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 consistently report that 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system. Featherstone points to systemic issues that allow the dark world of sex trafficking to thrive and target our most vulnerable youth.
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 help others to heal.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: More than 23,000 kids will age out of the foster care system this year, many left on their own to face issues like homelessness, sex trafficking, and even incarceration. Today I'm talking to actress and foster care advocate Angela Featherstone, who's using her own experiences to help young adults transitioning out of the system. I'm Brittany Jones-Cooper and this is "Unmuted."
I know you personally spent some time in the foster care system. Can you take us back to explain what your family dynamic was like back then?
ANGELA FEATHERSTONE: I would characterize the first 16 years of my life to be physically, emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abusive and, at the very least, there was criminal neglect. There was a six month period that I'd been living just on the streets. I ended up in foster care. I hated the group homes. And I didn't feel safe there and so I kept leaving. I was just being trafficked, being raped all the time. So in this 1 and 1/2 year window, I got to experience foster care and the foster care-to-trafficking pipeline.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: I've read that anywhere from 50% to 90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system. Why are children in the foster care system so vulnerable to trafficking?
ANGELA FEATHERSTONE: I just see this image of foster care being like those holding pens for the cattle before they get slaughtered. And the slaughtering is basically turning 18. The foster-care-to-pedophile pipeline is alive and well and inhumane and unconscionable. I had not sensed that it could be so subtle as to it could happen to you and you don't even realize it's happening to you.
And that was my story. I wasn't getting any money or I wasn't standing on any street corner. It was different than what I had, you know, imagined in my head of what it was. And I thought, these people are really nice to me. I'm just trying to survive. It's a lot nicer where I am than it was in the group homes. It didn't cross my mind until I started to find out what child sex trafficking was and was like, "Oh."
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: How did you get out of that situation?
ANGELA FEATHERSTONE: I got arrested. They charged me with immorality. I begged the judge to emancipate me. A friend finally lent me the money to get a one-way ticket on the Greyhound bus to Toronto. Within less than a year, I was the most successful model in Canada. And so all of a sudden, I was in show business and there was like this sort of childlike sadness. If you've had all of your physical, mental, and emotional boundaries completely violated most often, it's very difficult to ever really have a truly prosperous life.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You became an actor in roles like "The Wedding Singer" and "Friends." But even with this success, you also found yourself experiencing homelessness. Can you take me back to that time and how that happened?
ANGELA FEATHERSTONE: I was at the peak of my career as an actress now. I did not recognize that I had a car full of bombs that was unhealed trauma until a couple of really difficult instances happened at work. And I did not have the infrastructure to handle them. I thought that's why I ran away from home was because people were being profoundly abusive to me. I didn't realize that it could happen again as an adult. I just collapsed.
I started drinking. I literally threw all my money away. I became homeless. But I was aware that I needed to find a better way to live. It came that time when it was time to really heal the core wounds. And it was so excruciating. I almost didn't make it. Like I almost killed myself. It was so painful.
I had a very surreal experience where I made a commitment to finish my mission. And I was led on this path of healing. I found a great teacher. And then in 2020, I started to have those conversations with myself, like how else can I fulfill my purpose?
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You were inspired to start your own healing school for kids aging out of the foster care system. Can you tell us a little bit about how the program works?
ANGELA FEATHERSTONE: We know that trauma affects DNA. So in my idea is that healing trauma also changes your DNA. The mission of Fostering Care is we're healing the healers of tomorrow. It's a three-month healing intensive for youth aging out of foster care in Los Angeles County. So it's really this community that you don't have when you're in foster care. And they graduate with a teaching certificate in a healing modality.
So they can go back into their communities and become vital members and participants and contributors to society. It helps you to align with your life's purpose. And when you start aligning with your life's purpose, there's nothing that can stop you. Had I been loved, had I been nurtured, had I been receiving all of the things that every child so rightly deserves, I never would have had that huge drive to get out of where I was and to change my life and to change the world.