We can't tell you what her parents were thinking, but it's probably safe to say they weren't doing it very straight. Like 31 percent of children who enter the foster care system every year in the U.S., Stephanie's family had been torn apart by substance abuse. In the year before that fateful errand run, Stephanie's mother had lost her sister to suicide, started drinking heavily, and separated from her husband. She then "immediately started dating this new guy who was really abusive to me and my siblings," Stephanie says. "We would get into arguments and fights, so my mom signed me over into foster care." Stephanie estimated that she bounced around 20 different foster homes. She was just part of the 20 percent of children in the foster system who move more than 10 times. Only half stay in one place for a single year. And every trip was a surprise.
"Some were a big house or facility where the government's footing the bill," Stephanie says. "There are other places where the people get benefits from the government for taking in needy children. They might have kids of their own, they might have adult kids, they might be childless. They might live in a mansion, they might live in an apartment. You never know until you're on their doorstep."