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James McIntyre on foster care system, advocacy, award
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2019-10-05

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=When James McIntyre was 3, he was placed in the Illinois foster care system with his four other siblings due to parental neglect and drug use. Two years later, McIntyre was adopted with two of his siblings by couple—but everything changed for the worse when he turned 7.

McIntyre said this was when his adoptive mother and her biological son started spanking him and the abuse escalated from there.

"I was tortured," said McIntyre. "I was forced to bend over and place my hands on my ankles naked balancing a can of vegetables on my back by my adoptive mother. If the can fell off my back she would kick me over. She would make me do this for hours. When it was finally over she would send me to bed without dinner. I got so hungry that I would eat the lead paint chips off the window ledge.

"When the physical abuse stopped, then the sexual abuse started. For six years, I was raped by her biological son in that household. A secret I kept to myself after telling one person and nothing happened."

McIntyre said he was able to escape that house by pretending to be mentally unstable so he would be hospitalized. This led to four hospitalizations over the course of a year and after that his adoptive parents terminated their parental rights. He bounced from one foster home or program to another until he aged out of the system at age 21.

"I had to hide the fact that I was gay in many of these placements," said McIntyre. "Being gay was a seen as a safety risk. However, staying in the closet was not safer. "

These traumatic experiences caused McIntyre, now aged 28, to become an advocate for aged-out foster youth in Illinois. McIntyre's advocacy began when he was 16 years old and learned he was meant for something bigger.

McIntyre said that during his time in foster care as a teenager, he learned from one of the adults to speak out about his experiences to educate people about the problems in the foster care system. He added that listening to the children being serviced is important because many times they have the answers.

When McIntyre, who now lives in Chicago, aged out of the system in 2012 he co-created Illinois' first Foster Care Alumni of America ( FCAAIL ) chapter.

McIntyre said FCAAIL's vision is "for all people in and from foster care to be connected, empowered and flourishing."

This vision, McIntyre added, was developed by many foster care alumni.

"Our mission is to ensure a high quality of life for those in and from foster care through the collective voice of alumni," said McIntyre. "We intend to erase the differences in opportunities and outcomes that exist for people in and from foster care compared to those who have not experienced foster care."

McIntyre added that FCAAIL also works to improve outcomes for foster care alumni including providing opportunities for them to connect with each other so isolation is reduced. He said this can also give them the outlet to create chosen families and community with each other.

In 2014, McIntyre became the FCAAIL chapter president and stayed in that role for five years.

Outside of his FCAAIL role, McIntyre was an unpaid contract lobbyist whose work resulted in a law that made foster youth documentation affordable, another law that gave aged-out foster youth tuition waver among other victories.

"Over the past 10 years, I have worked on well over 25 pieces of legislation," said McIntyre. "Some of them are increasing education opportunities, expanding sibling contact, creating transparency with hospitals as they report child abuse, creating better standards of foster parents and making are human services talk to each other so that older youth in care and alumni are not lost."

Currently, McIntyre works as an outreach and mission associate with the Illinois Court Appointed Special Advocates. ( When McIntyre wants to unwind he loves to bake and is still entertaining the idea of becoming a pastry chef in the future. )

McIntyre's advocacy work has also including speaking at numerous charity events and as a member of both the Child Welfare Advisory Committee on Older Youth and then National Youth and Alumni Policy Council.

"One of my passions is encouraging others to be active in government," said McIntyre. "I found my family in the Illinois General Assembly."

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, McIntyre will be honored, along with three other awardees, as the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter 2019 Public Citizen of the Year at the organization's statewide conference. The event will take place at the Westin North Shore in Wheeling, Illinois.

"It is a true honor to be receiving the Public Citizen of the Year award from NASW-IL," said McIntyre. "As a former foster kid who knows the dedication to improving the lives of abused and neglected children, social workers saved me."

"James personifies the NASW-IL Chapter's Public Citizen of the Year award which is presented to a non-social worker and member of the community whose accomplishments exemplify the values and mission of professional social work," said NASW-IL Chapter Executive Director Joel Rubin. "His personal narrative and commitment to advocacy to improve the foster care system mirror's the NASW's support for child welfare policies designed to provide the best for children in need of care."

McIntyre said his message to the country is "I always encourage people to look into foster care. In Illnois, we have over 16,000 kids in the system. If you can foster, mentor. If you cannot mentor, donate. And if you cannot donate, talk about foster kids. Many kids are stigmatized by the system. If we all start talking about it more it will take away that stigma."


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