Initiating his own placement into foster care, as well as the removal of his siblings from their home, Erik Barrus entered the foster care system at age 15.
The oldest of his siblings, Erik was also the only one who was not the biological child of the father in the home. Erik attributes his regular beatings to that fact. His home was a scary place to be, with both parents being heavy drinkers and drug users. The home also a place of distribution for drugs as well as a big party venue.
Erik remembers regularly waking up after being knocked unconscious by his stepfather and not only hating his parents, but hating himself too. It was a horrible time, being the oldest of five kids, watching the destructive and abusive behavior and often being the recipient. Erik was required to stay home from school when the marks from his beatings couldn’t be hidden. And when they could be hidden, he was warned to stay away from any who would question him.
Finally, sick of subjecting himself to the same abusive behavior, instead of returning home from school, Erik contacted the police and reported his mother’s drug use. Child Protective Services got involved and Erik and his siblings were removed from the home.
Being older, Erik was separated from the others and over the course of three years, lived in three different group homes. The homes were cold, heartless places and Erik felt like an item, not a child. Finally, he was placed in a loving foster group home.
After some time, Erik’s parents were pronounced “rehabilitated” and he was given the opportunity to return to them. His trust in the adults who should have protected him throughout his young years had been destroyed and Erik refused the offer. By this point he was comfortable with his new foster family. His foster parents had been welcoming and were able to look past his understandably distant behavior to offer him the love and acceptance he desperately needed. Erik chose to stay where he was until graduation, which happened a year late for him because of having to miss so much school through the abusive years.
It never entered Erik’s mind that he might be adoptable. He expected to age out of the system and jump right into caring for himself, alone. But one day his foster parents called him into the room. Assuming he had done something “wrong,” Erik obliged, ready for counsel and correction. But instead Erik was slammed with a happy request. At age 19, soon to be 20, Erik’s foster parents wanted to adopt him. “My parents are truly the most selfless people I have ever met,” Erik says of the wonderful people who loved him as he should have always been loved.
Since his adoption, Erik has gone on to college and gotten his degree in Social Work. He completed an internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption (CCAI) in Washington DC. (This organization advocates for better legislation for youth in foster care and adoption.) While on The Hill, Erik worked on legislation related to group home reform. With more than 100,000 foster children currently adoptable in the United States, Erik has found his passion. He currently works at the Open Gate Ranch Youth Group Home in Montana, helping the young men reach toward personal success.
Erik wants the world to know: “It is important for everyone to educate themselves on the foster care/adoption field. There are so many children that need love and support. If there are people that cannot adopt,then they can foster children. And if they cannot do that, then they can advocate for these vulnerable children. And if they cannot do that, then they can help educate themselves and support others in their endeavors of love. The point is that there is always something that can be done no matter your station in life. It does not have to be these grandiose acts, just look for opportunities to serve and help wherever possible.”