Published April 27, 2020

Coming Out of Foster Care and Using My Voice for the Vulnerable

“Every step of the way I had to battle severe insecurities and tons and tons of fear… You will often overestimate what you can accomplish in the short run, but you will vastly underestimate what you can do through a lifetime of faithfulness.”—Craig Groeschel


I went into the foster care system when I was four years old. A few months later, I was reunited with my mom, but she struggled immensely with mental illness, which caused her to be abusive and neglectful. So, I went back into the foster care system at age twelve.

I look back on my life now and I can see the intrinsic hope that was planted within me—as though I always knew what I went through was for a greater purpose.

I became separated from my biological sister and lived in twelve different homes. I often felt like I did not have a voice. I was isolated from peers and social activities. To say growing up in foster care as a teenager was adverse seems like an understatement. I have never endured suffering as hurtful as living in the foster system. Though as a teenager I expressed I didn’t believe in God, for many years I prayed to Him and asked Him to grant me a family and father figure. I look back on my life now and I can see the intrinsic hope that was planted within me—as though I always knew what I went through was for a greater purpose.

As a senior in high school, I anticipated emancipating out of the foster care system. I was saddened I would not have a family to return to as an adult, but I also no longer fantasized of having a family to call my own until I married.

I started going to church and asking questions. God was gently nudging me. Through a slow process, I came to realize I had a family in the church and a Father all along. My Heavenly Father had protected and loved me through my entire life in ways an earthly father never could—I have been growing in an intimate relationship with my Abba Father ever since.

What you speak breathes life or death to others.

Tori Petersen track and field

The statistics for people in foster care are saddening. In fact, many people told me I was destined for them, so I held onto my faith and did what I could to not end up a statistic.

My track coach, Scott Wichman, was one consistent mentor throughout high school. He told me I could accomplish great things and go to college. The following year, with his continued encouragement and God’s hand in my life, I became a five-time state champion track athlete. I was the fiftieth woman in Ohio to win four state titles in one meet, the first individual female from my high school to become a state champion and the first person of color from my school to become a state champion. This allowed me to go to college on a full ride scholarship and become a part of the 3 percent of foster youth to graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This experience taught me that what we speak can breathe life or death into others—my track coach chose life. And his encouragement went beyond words.

After I turned 18, I emancipated out of the foster system and became homeless. But Scott invited me to be a part of his family—I changed my last name and they are who I consider my family.


Tori Petersen with her new family


I started using my voice for the voiceless—and then almost quit.

Since accepting Christ into my life, I have felt like He has made it clear to me that He wants me to be an advocate for voiceless foster youth while proclaiming the Gospel. God has allowed me to do some incredible things—I’ve had the chance to speak to White House policy staff, members of American Enterprise Institute, as well as present policy to Congress about how to reduce abuse and neglect in foster care.

But after getting married and having my son, someone in the church proposed a question that made me doubt: If I wasn’t a foster youth, would anything I’m doing really be that impressive? They referred to my story as “foster care success story” and suggested I just settle down as a mother and wife. And because of their position in the church, I believed they were right. So, I stopped sharing my story.

Then I went to The Global Leadership Summit and everything changed.

Tori Petersen with her husband and childMonths later, my husband, who grew up attending The Global Leadership Summit, encouraged me to go in 2019. Before going, I didn’t even realize I wasn’t doing what God was calling me to do. I didn’t even realize I needed to have a change of heart. But the speakers really challenged me to look inward. I realized I had a life to lead and people to love. I think we go about life unaware of what is going on within us, and I think because the Holy Spirit is present at the Summit, and through the experience, darkness is brought to light.

It was at the Summit where God made my calling clear to me all over again. The Summit showed me that God has granted me a story to tell and not telling it would be a waste. So, I decided to keep sharing my story.

Danielle Strickland’s talk was one of the most inspirational to me. I was even able to connect with her afterwards! Since attending the Summit, I have been sharing my testimony through podcasts, writing and speaking engagements.

My grander vision is to keep telling my story to encourage foster youth and empower the church to rise up and take good care of the vulnerable.

The speaking engagement that meant the most to me occurred at the juvenile detention center I once resided in after getting into a fight with my mother. It was a small get together, but I could see God working. The kids asked questions and it felt like many of them came to aha-moments that their lives didn’t have to end up where they were headed. 

Many foster parents and foster youth have reached out to me, thanking me for telling my story because of the insight it offers them in their own experience. One story that always brings me hope is my first speaking engagement at a group home for troubled teenagers. I didn’t know how to prepare. It turned out to be the worst talk I have ever given. But about a year later, a young boy reached out on social media and told me that He gave His life to Christ that day and his life has been completely different ever since! He thanked me and I thanked God for speaking through me in ways I could have never seen!

My grander vision—to offer hope, encourage and empower.

I want to see a vulnerable population of youth, who have not experienced as much love as they should, be loved in ways that they understand. My grander vision is to keep telling my story to encourage foster youth and empower the church to rise up and take good care of the vulnerable—those in foster care, those who are trafficked, the homeless and the abused—the list goes on and on. And if we are not educated on how to heal them, the list will only grow.

I hope to write a book and continue to speak. I want to be a resource to the foster care and adoption community. And more than anything, I want to share the Gospel—I have seen how radically it heals and redeems, not only in my own life but many others.

Staying encouraged on the journey.

Sometimes I wonder if following this calling is crazy. I grew up wanting my own family, and once I had kids, I pictured myself as a stay-at-home with no other work on the side. I thought my advocacy work would only last a few years right after I graduated college.

The truth is, I experience a lot of rejection and it can be hard not to let that define my vision or pave the way. There are lots of people who aren’t interested in having me on their podcast or publishing my writing. But the triumph comes when I am diligently obedient in what God has called me to do—people open their doors and want to get to know me and hear my story because their hearts are also burdened for vulnerable families and youth. Then I see these coalitions building—they are armies for God fighting for families and children. It’s beautiful! God continues to show me, with every opportunity and open door, that He is not done.

Tori Petersen with her momAnother victory has been sharing a bit of mine and mom’s story and seeing the joy that brings her. I was conceived out of rape and my mom chose life for me. Because of this, I truly view my mom as a hero. As I’ve shared this story, I have seen my mom heal and be encouraged. As we both heal more and more, we forgive wider and love deeper. Our relationship continues only because I know God’s grace and I am reminded of who I am through avenues like the GLS.

I’m thankful for the Summit helping me realize that I still have a life to lead and people to love. God made my calling clear to me all over again. He granted me a story to tell and not telling it would be a waste. Thanks to God speaking to me through the Summit, I decided to keep sharing my story and being a voice for the vulnerable.

About the Author
Tori Petersen Headshot

Tori Petersen

Wife, Mom, Former Foster Youth

Tori Petersen is a wife, mom and former foster youth hoping to make her Abba known and loved through stories, speaking and writing. She is an advocate for the preservation of the family, foster care and adoption while communicating the Gospel. Follow her on Instagram @torihopepetersen.