“There’s nothing dysfunctional about you at all.’ I get that a lot,” said actress-turned-author Judith Levisy as she contemplated her reasoning for penning her first book, “Adopted, Returned Unwanted: My Foster Care Journey.” The book will be published this month by local independent and minority-owned KP Publishing.
Intended to be a compliment, the above statement still packs a mild sting, because like more than 400,000 youth across America today, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (60,000 of which reside in California), Levisy grew up as a foster child — and indeed, there was dysfunction, and heartbreak, disappointment, and abuse. However, there was also perseverance, triumph, and joy.
“Adopted, Returned Unwanted” explores vividly each of the vicissitudes that have shaped Levisy’s journey to date, beginning with her being given up by an unwed, teen-aged White mother and then adopted at birth by a White family who, just a few months later, decided to return her to the orphanage.
“I was seven months old,” Levisy explained. “My hair was turning from blonde to brown to dark brown. It was getting a little wavy and curly, and my eyes were turning from blue to gray to green to light brown to the color that they are now…and then my skin started getting darker, too. Then they realized, wait a minute, this is not what we want.”
From that orphanage in upstate New York, Levisy was ultimately taken in by a Black couple that made it their business to foster young children like little Judy — literally. When Judy arrived at the home, there were already three others like her in place, in addition to one biological child.
“They were going to actually start adopting everybody,” said Levisy. “But when the state of New York told [them] that they would no longer receive the monthly payments, they kept us as foster children because they didn’t want to lose the financial benefit, and I think that’s so sad. Because that’s all we were to [our foster mother] – money. She used to tell us, ‘Well, you only worth $2.35. That’s all they’re paying me for you is $2.35 [a day].’”
Two more children followed young Judy, and the five foster siblings endured many a challenge over the decades, psychological and emotional abuse as well as physical, with some of the brood succumbing to drug use, homelessness and ill health.
Levisy’s book honors her siblings and their parallel journeys, even as some conflict among certain family members persists. Although the writing of her book was therapeutic in its intention, its revelations have stirred things up.
“People thought that we had the best of life and everything was hunky dory,” said Levisy. “There are so many people that [our foster mother] had fooled, but no, this is the torture we had gone through, and we would always have to cover up.
“She would never really get us in our face because, with us being light-skinned, the bruises would really show up, and also back then, the caseworkers were visiting the home the first part of the month.”
Levisy went on to forge a fulfilling life, in earnest, as a member of the military, a volunteer for veterans, a mother, an actress and producer. Most elating for her, after 40 years of searching, navigating a maze of French Canadian onomatology, Polish stereotypes and jazz history along the way, she reconnected with her biological mother.
“I have a tremendous, lovely relationship with my mom,” reported Levisy.
In establishing that critical relationship, Levisy has extended her family significantly and aims to offer hope to other foster youth that familial connection and sometimes even reunion are achievable.
“[This book is for] parents, people raised in foster care, parents raising foster children, biological parents with children in foster care, teachers, counselors, doctors and those working in the judicial system,” said Levisy.
“The benefits to readers are understanding what can happen to foster children and a sense of compassion for people that were raised in this. Hopefully, people will think twice before giving up their children and consider the consequences before removing children from their families and placing them with strangers.
“Foster children are not always products of their environment. Readers will know foster children can turn their dreams and goals into reality.”
To pre-order a copy of “Adopted, Returned, Unwanted” today at bit.ly/3Iz34yt.