Tori Hope Petersen was nine years old when her mother brought her along to a friend’s abortion appointment. Though Petersen had never heard of abortion, the woman’s sobs were loud enough for her to decide that whatever it was, she never wanted one.
As someone who was born out of an unplanned pregnancy herself, Petersen recognizes she could have been aborted if her mother had not chosen life for her.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the pro-choice left have claimed pro-lifers are nothing more than pro-birth. Petersen, a former foster youth turned foster care advocate and foster mom, exemplifies how to live out pro-life convictions after a baby’s birth. She lived in 12 different homes, where she suffered abuse and yearned for belonging. After attending church and coming to faith, she became motivated to develop into the advocate she needed in her own childhood. In 2021, she won the title of Mrs. Universe, using the competition to highlight the foster care crisis in America.
"People assume that all former foster youth and current foster youth are doomed for a life of homelessness, joblessness, and jail time," she writes in her new book Fostered. "I’ve decided to break these ‘generational curses,’ as some might call them, attempting to make the world change their perspective of foster youth."
Yet after all Petersen has overcome, she does not want readers to take away what she has done, but what God has done through her.
Petersen was conceived out of rape to a single mother, Lisa, who was jailed for prostitution during her pregnancy. Lisa was later arrested for drug dealing, sending her daughter to foster care. They later reunited, but after years of Lisa taking her own trauma out on her daughter, the court placed Petersen and her half-sister back into the foster care system. Throughout the process, Petersen lamented that she had no control over her placement.
"If we want to see our foster youth empowered, we must grant them responsibility," she writes. "I want vulnerable youth to have what they need for today, but more than that, I want vulnerable youth to obtain the skills they need for their families tomorrow."
From her time in foster care, Petersen developed ideas to fix the system, like removing the conflict of interest caseworkers have between the demands of the state and their agency and the best interest of the child. Caseworkers are responsible for too many children, says Petersen, preventing them from being able to investigate homes, train families, and recruit the best parents. She prescribes limits of how many children can be placed in each foster home based on their Adverse Childhood Experience scores, a measure of types of abuse and neglect, to ensure children can heal from their trauma.
Though Petersen and her sister entered the foster home together, the girls were quickly separated. Heartbroken, Petersen was placed in a group home for girls with behavioral and mental issues, neither of which she had. But her church inspired her to show kindness to troubled housemates and contribute to their healing, rather than to more hurting.
"As I grew spiritually, something started to change," Petersen writes. "My sense of purpose widened beyond myself. … My success was not simply for myself. It was for the foster youth who’d come after me."
After Petersen passed through a variety of abusive foster homes and hurtful relationships, a court emancipated her from the foster care system. She forged a bond with her track coach, Scott, who did not pass judgment against her like so many others, but saw her as a girl in need of a father. After Petersen’s senior track season ended, she earned a track scholarship to Ursuline College and Scott invited her to join his family, finally giving her a home.
Petersen was exposed to Christianity in her various foster homes, but she became jaded when the faith of her foster parents didn’t stop them from abusing children. But the actions of role models like Scott showed her a brighter path: "God used their actions and love and sacrifices to bring me to Him—to help me understand that I was fully loved, as I was, as I am."
After a difficult freshman year, she transferred to a school she found by googling "most religious colleges in America." She landed at Hillsdale College, where she met her husband, Jacob. Their first child Leyonder was born shortly after they graduated in 2018, followed by the adoption of their young adult son and the birth of a daughter.
Petersen dedicates her life to serving foster youth and their parents, offering them a home and family, and sharing God’s love. Fostered will inspire all who read it to serve foster youths however they are able, whether through fostering, adoption, or meeting the needs of foster families.
"If there’s one thing you take away from this book it’d be this: see others and see yourself as God sees you," she writes. "It will change everything."
Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family Through Foster Care
by Tori Hope Petersen
B&H Books, 176 pp., $17.99
Elizabeth Troutman, a former intern at the Washington Free Beacon, is a junior at Hillsdale College.