SHAKER HEIGHTS - “Unadoptable.”
It’s the label placed on LaTasha Watts when she was just three-years-old.
“I cried. What three-year-old is unadoptable,” says Watts. “They’re basically saying this three year-old can’t have a family.”
FOSTER CARE: THE ONLY OPTION
Watts says foster care records reveal she received the "unadoptable" label because psychologists and social workers believed she had a personality disorder and was too loyal to her biological family.
“I’m blind in my left eye due to blunt force trauma,” says Watts. “I’m burned over 35 percent of my body from the waist down with second and third degree burns that was done before I was two-years-old.”
Watts’ biological mother and father, who were married as teenagers and divorced shortly after, both separately deny they were the ones who abused their daughter. No one was ever held accountable for what was done.
“I can still see the little baby with the burnt leg and the stockings on to cover the burns,” says Evola Phillips, Watts' paternal great aunt. “I had already asked if they would let me have her and they said well no. I felt offly bad because I just knew I didn’t know what would happen.”
Watts spent the majority of her childhood in multiple foster homes. She aged out of the system at 18 and struggled to find a place in the world.
“I was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), PTSD (Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder) and reoccurring depression,” says Watts. “I’m 100 percent sure all of those were correctly diagnosed so I had to deal with all of that.’
THE TURNING POINT
The birth of Watts’ daughter and being diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly after was the turning point.
“I felt that I could die possibly and then my daughter could end up in foster care,” says Watts. “At that point I started to think about my life.”
“She looked back and said you know I’ve had a rough life,” says Phillips. “And now I’m going to change it.”
“Whatever help was out there I went and got it,” says Watts. “I put myself in therapy. I took parenting classes. You name it, I did it so I could be successful. Not only for myself but for my daughter.”
BECOMING A FOSTER CARE ADVOCATE
After beating cancer at 29, Watts became an advocate for foster care children. In 2009 she founded The Purple Project, an advocacy organization dedicated to enhance the quality of life for foster care youth and those who have aged out of foster care. The organization hosts a conference each year.
“She’s one of the main people I trust and I know she cares,” says Aija Alton, a nineteen-year-old former foster child who met Watts after being enrolled in an independent living class Watts taught.
“She’s shown me that you can care about people in this world and not have to have your guard up.”
According to Ohio Fostering Connections, more than 1,000 Ohio youth “age out” of foster care at age 18 each year. Earlier this summer, Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 50; a statewide program providing housing and supportive services for foster care youth until the age of 21. Experts in the field say this population experiences obstacles to success including: homelessness, unemployment, insufficient education, human trafficking and dependence on public assistance.
“Being a bystander is not an option in today’s society,” says Watts. “Despite the fact that you’re in foster care that doesn’t define who you are. The rest is up to you.”
Watts has won multiple awards for her advocacy work. She has also self-published the book “I’m Not Broken Just a Little Twisted,” a memoir of what she faced in the foster care system.