Joshua Smith is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his foster care placement with Jane and Bill Aiton. To honor the occasion, he wrote a heartwarming letter to the couple to show his appreciation for all their years of dedication to him.

Josh was just 11 years old when he ran away from home to escape his abusive father. In the letter, Josh describes his life before he ran away. When his parents split up, his dad took him because his mom had mental health issues. His father told him repeatedly that he was unloved, unwanted, and worthless. He loved his mom very much. After her death, things between him and his dad got worse. One night Joshua recalled having trouble finishing his food. In response, his dad ordered him to go get his mother’s ashes. His father removed the lid of the urn and dumped the whole thing out on top of him. Josh cried throughout the night, broken and devastated. The next morning he ran away.

Once he found the police station, the cops questioned him on video for three hours before social services picked him up. When he arrived at the Aitons’ he was just empty. He recalled their sympathy and compassion. The next few days were very different than his former life. Jane took him shopping and to get a haircut. Bill gave him some pocket money at the end of the week. He said their daily acts of kindness are what made him feel safe and wanted. With their help he learned to eat, communicate, and believe in himself.

His foster parents wrote a letter back to him. In it they described the heartbreaking scene when he first arrived on their doorstep all those years ago. He was pale, thin, and exhausted. Shortly after that regression began and he seemed much younger than his age. Eventually he started to speak, and he began eating his food rather than picking at it. He flinched easily at first, but with time that started to fade. They expressed how proud they are of the life he has made for himself outside of their home with his girlfriend, and they hope all of his dreams come true.

To learn more about foster care in your area, you can contact Adopt US Kids.