Like an infection that can kill your body, for many of us, our foster care experiences are infections that can kill our futures. Dream with me a moment. Wouldn’t it be a fantastic if there was a vaccine to cure the mental, emotional, and spiritual infections acquired during foster care? You know, those thought patterns and survival skills we developed while in foster care that actually work against us as we move toward independence?

That vaccine doesn’t exist, although I’ve come close with a serum in the form of the right education. What if I could travel back in time to my foster care or post-foster care years? What if my adult-self could administer my serum to my youth-self? What if my wish were magically granted, even for just one hour, and I could administer that serum to my youth-self? What would that miracle look like? How much more successful a life might I have enjoyed?

In the first few minutes of that precious hour, I’d introduce my adult-self to my youth-self by telling of the successful adult who’s doing everything the youth wants to do. I’d do this to instill hope in that youth. And then I’d have to explain, clearly and forcefully, that I could have accomplished more and done it faster and better if I had just worked harder when I was a teenager to acquire the right education.

The hardheaded youth-self wouldn’t understand what the wise adult-self means, and so would leap to arguing that he’s in school. That’d be my opening to explain that going to school has nothing to do with the right education. Acquiring the right education means acquiring the right knowledge and wisdom. While the youth-self needs to finish school as well as possible, the real focus and attention needs to be on acquiring the knowledge and wisdom needed to be independent. The sooner the better.

The jaded youth-self wouldn’t trust what the accomplished adult-self says. I know that, so how do I overcome that barrier? I give him a two-fold promise and a token. The promise would be, “If you don’t do as I say, your adulthood will be at least as ugly as your childhood, if not worse. And you will not stop suffering until you’ve done what I instruct. There is no other way to get started.” The token would be a key to some motorcycle, a car, or house.

The promise would speak directly to my youth-self fear of continued failure and present pain, while the token would speak directly to my youth-self craving for freedom and security. For a different foster or former foster youth the promise might be reworded and the token different. My fears and cravings, however, are universal for foster and former foster youth, whether or not even they recognize their fears and cravings as such.

My adult-self would then present my youth-self with four classic books. I know how little my youth-self likes to read and how little discipline he has in following through with anything. If I were able to stay with him like a foster parent or mentor, I’d use every means possible to make sure he reads, understands, and begins to apply what he’s learning from these four books. Little else will make such a meaningful impact in his life. As my time runs short, the best I will probably be able to do is tell him to trust me, because to trust me means to trust himself. Otherwise, he needs to understand that his future is bleak, which just hurts both of us. Gambling with my very life, I’d hand him the books. I’d have to hand them to him, of course, because he isn’t convinced he needs them and so wouldn’t go and buy them himself.

The first is As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. This tiny book is a difficult one to read because of the older English, but it provides the basic knowledge about dealing with oneself. The second is How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This easy-to-read book provides the basic knowledge about dealing with others. The next is Critical Thinking by Moore & Parker. This textbook introduces the effective adult survival skills my youth-self will need to replace his faulty foster care survive skills. The fourth is the Book of Proverbs, found in any Bible. Proverbs teaches wisdom and gives a framework to apply the knowledge learned in the other three books. These four books, I explain before my miracle hour is over, are the gateways to more of the right knowledge and wisdom.

Would my serum of the right education, which I would enthusiastically prescribe to myself, work for other foster youth? I’m confident it would. But you decide if this serum is one you’ll share or withhold from the foster or former foster youth in your life, whose foster care infections are clearly killing his or her future.