How a Mass. native overcame his broken foster care experience

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — A young man’s tough road from his birth in New Bedford to his graduation from Boston College is the basis of a book and now a movie.

Steve Pemberton spent his formative years in foster care and he says his story of escaping a broken foster care system is one of defiance and survival.

“They'd already taken my childhood, you couldn't have my life too,” he told Boston 25 News last week.

It was that defiance that gave a then 16-year-old boy from New Bedford a chance in the world.

Pemberton was just three when he was taken from his mother, who was in a losing battle with alcoholism.

The biracial boy then bounced from one foster home to the next.

“I remember asking my social worker one time, ‘why is it so hard to find me a home?’ And her answer was, ‘we don't know if you belong with a white family or a black family,’" Pemberton explained.

Eventually, he landed in a home with a family praised for taking in some 39 foster kids over the years.

The abuse started the very first day.

“My life was subject to whatever choices they decided to make,” he said. “They were trying to tell you, you were nothing … it's true for a lot of children in America today who wake up and they're wondering: is today the day that I'm going to die."

Pemberton would spend 13 years tormented in that same foster home.

He wrote a book about his story of survival, which is a now movie meant to inspire others to continue to fight back and break free.

“[School and books] were more like a sanctuary,” Pemberton said. “Reading in particular, it sowed the seeds of our defiance."

Books gave Pemberton another view of the world. A guidance counselor would give him a brochure about Boston College.

College was a chance to finally make his own choices.

It was ultimately a teacher who took Pemberton in until he went off to college.

The movie, 'A Chance in the World,' premieres Wednesday in theaters across the country.

Pemberton says it's so important to get his story out there because foster care system still has a lot of work to do to look after the children in its' care.

“Whether I was black, white or something in between, was irrelevant. Who I was, just a young boy in need of a home, that was a lot more important," said Pemberton.

Kids are falling through the cracks.

For the last year 25 Investigates has been asking the question: who is advocating for foster kids who go missing?

We looked at policies in Massachusetts and across the country and found cases are getting closed out while children are still missing.

25 Investigates will share the results of a yearlong investigation beginning Wednesday on Boston 25 Morning News.

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