By Adam Jones
April 27, 2021
Like it was yesterday, Destiny McFall remembers the day she was dropped off at a foster family at age 8 with more questions than possessions, more hurt than hope.
She could not have known then, but that day began a journey of finding belonging, self-worth and confidence needed to endure and break through all the depressing statistics weighing on children brought up through the foster care system. This semester, McFall graduates from The University of Alabama with a master’s degree in social work after earning her bachelor’s degree in the same field from UA a year ago.
“This is extremely rare for people with lived foster care experience because only 20% enroll in college and 3% graduate with a bachelor’s,” said Dr. M. Sebrena Jackson, assistant professor, director of the UA Masters in Social Work program and director of the National Social Work Enrichment Program. “There are so few getting graduate degrees that it isn’t even tracked in the literature.”
Along with graduation, McFall completed a prestigious placement with the Child Welfare League of America through UA’s cornerstone field program in Washington D.C., which she did virtually during spring semester because of pandemic protocols. She also has worked part time with Comfort Care Hospice as volunteer coordinator, a job she will step into full time after graduation.
Long term, though, she wants to continue the type of work she did through the Child Welfare League of America — advocating for policy and funding around issues that impact foster children.
“It’s been really special to be able to be hands-on and encouraging funding to help foster kids because a lot of times they can go unnoticed,” she said. “I was there at one point, and I don’t want kids to go through the same things.”
“I keep my experiences with me because it reminds me every day how far I’ve come.”
Placed into foster care along with her sister, McFall found a loving family in Florence, Alabama. It became her home, and in her senior year of high school she began to consider social work as a career. After her senior year she attended the National Social Work Enrichment Program, a non-profit summer camp held at UA and other universities that exposes high-school-aged foster kids to higher education.
With a UA scholarship for students who are the first in their family to attend college, McFall came to Tuscaloosa to study social work.
“I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better experience than here,” she said. “The professors and others have had their arms wide open from the beginning. They are so passionate about what they do, that I got the knowledge and training I need to be successful. I can’t put into words the support they provided.”
Her foster family’s home is her home, but she has reconnected with her birth mother, who supports McFall in her pursuits.
Though she had some tough times dealing with the lingering trauma of her childhood, she has channeled her experiences into her studies and her advocacy work on behalf of foster children.
“I took what I went through and am using it for the better,” McFall said. “I keep my experiences with me because it reminds me every day how far I’ve come.”