Actress Angela Featherstone starred in popular TV shows such as friends and Seinfeld over the past two decades, but behind the scenes she battled scars from a painful childhood.
“I would characterize the first 16 years of my life as physical, emotional, psychological and ultimately sexual abuse,” Featherstone tells Yahoo Life. “There was at least consistent criminal neglect and a lot of abandonment.”
At age 16, Nova Scotia native Featherstone was placed in foster care in Canada, an experience that shaped her life and in many ways aggravated her trauma. Today, she is an outspoken advocate for children in the system and the founder of Fostering Care, a nonprofit dedicated to curing young adults (18-21) aging out of the foster care system. The program consists of a three-month course in which students receive a teaching certificate in a healing modality, such as meditation, breathwork or yoga. In addition, the program hosts guest lectures on topics such as nutrition, drug addiction, and various life skills.
Featherstone knows firsthand how crucial these healing tools can be for young people transitioning from foster care into adulthood. She recalls being placed in a group home when she was 16 and witnessing sexual activity, violence and drug use, while experiencing a lack of proper food and care. “I kept getting put in these group houses and I kept running away because I hated the group houses. They were really bad and I didn’t feel safe there, so I just kept leaving,” Featherstone says.
But on the street, she faced even darker threats.
“I was trafficked, I was raped all the time. I didn’t get any money and I wasn’t standing on any street corner. It was different from what I had imagined in my head,” Featherstone says. “I hadn’t felt it could be so subtle, because it can happen to you and you don’t even realize it’s happening to you.”
This year, more than 23,000 children in the child welfare system will age, and many will face threats such as homelessness, incarceration or human trafficking. Studies in the US and elsewhere consistently report that 50 to 90% of child trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system — something Featherstone says is based on systemic issues that allow the dark world of human trafficking to thrive and focus on the most vulnerable youth.
“I see this image of foster care just like those who keep pens for the livestock before slaughter: the slaughter actually turns 18 in the state of California,” Featherstone says. “The pipeline from foster care to pedophile is very much alive.”
Featherstone was eventually picked up by the police, arrested and charged with ‘immorality’, which she later learned was prostitution. When she was 17, she begged the judge to emancipate her, which he did, and with her newfound freedom, she borrowed money from a friend and took a bus to Toronto. In less than a year, she had become one of Canada’s most in-demand models, eventually moving to New York City to expand her career.
Soon Hollywood knocked on her door and in addition to popular TV shows, she landed roles in movies like The wedding singer and Con Air† Despite her success, Featherstone says she started drinking and struggled to find solid ground.
“I was at the peak of my career as an actress, and some really tough cases happened at work, and I didn’t have the infrastructure to handle them. When they came along, I just collapsed and sought solace in homelessness,” Featherstone says. “I became homeless. I literally threw all my money away on anyone who would take it. I just wanted to start from scratch again.”
Featherstone says she carried a childlike grief and often wondered why her childhood had been so traumatic. In 2011, she entered UCLA’s writing program and began writing a memoir. Featherstone has since shared her experiences with sex trafficking and forgiveness in essays. In 2016, however, Featherstone suffered another setback in her healing, and that moment would reconcile her painful past with her purpose.
“I’ve had a very difficult year and I almost didn’t make it. I almost killed myself. It was so painful,” she told Yahoo Life. “It was time to really heal the core wounds. And it was so unbearable.”
Through various therapies, yoga and writing, Featherstone says she discovered her purpose in helping young adults who have survived the foster care system. In 2020, she began developing the framework for Fostering Care, which includes teaching healing modalities intended to balance body, mind and emotions.
“I’ve been interested in working on codependency, working on becoming individualized, and also working on intimacy and vulnerability skills. If you’ve completely ignored or completely violated all of your physical, mental, and emotional boundaries, it’s very difficult to ever truly prosper,” Featherstone says.
Featherstone hopes to help young adults see their scars and heal them with love. She wants them to go back to their community as a whole and be prepared to become vital contributors to society who, in turn, can help heal others — just as she has.
“If I had been loved…if I had been given all the things that every child so rightly deserves, I would never have left my hometown,” she says. “I would never have had that tremendous drive to get out of where I was and to change my life and the world.”
—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove