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It was a typical press conference on the Hill. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) were discussing their proposal to create more mentorship programs for children in foster care.
Reporters shuffled through their notebooks, camera crewmen shifted their weight. It was hot, and Landrieu’s speech was lingering in the realm of dry facts and figures.
Then it was Betty Krupa’s turn to speak. Reading from a prepared statement, the Landrieu staffer was less polished than the politicians who spoke before her, but her words carried more punch.
Krupa told the story of her troubled childhood: her parents’ mental illnesses, the years in foster care and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer who changed her life.
Many Hill staffers have a pet cause, a minor policy issue they adopt to get ahead in their careers and to do some good. But Krupa’s cause is also her mission. As a former foster care child who bounced around the system, she has seen it from the inside.
Her story marks a rare success in a system that often produces more at-risk youth than aspiring lobbyists.
Her birth father suffered from schizophrenia and her mother was bipolar. Krupa lived for the latter half of her childhood in a home where she felt she had to be her mother’s protector, often eating only one or two meals a day.
“I always knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know exactly [what],” Krupa said. “My parents would always tell me, ‘Don’t tell anybody what happened, police are bad, schoolteachers are bad.’”
Around age 10, Krupa hit what she called her all-time low, a period that almost led her to suicide. But when she was 11, a DARE officer visited Krupa’s sixth-grade class in Baltimore and explained the concepts of physical and sexual abuse.
It was then Krupa realized she needed to be removed from her home, and the policewoman, whom she’ll identify only as Officer Phillips, helped her find a temporary foster home and served as a role model and mentor.
“Officer Phillips kept in touch with me during my time in foster care,” Krupa said. “She would take me out shopping, participate in activities that normal parents would do and was always there if I needed something.”