The future for foster children can seem bleak, but Altamonte Springs Police Officer William Belt proves that today doesn’t define tomorrow – and he’s determined to spread that message to local kids every way he can.
William Belt was only seven years old when he entered Florida’s foster-care system for the first time.
It was, at times, nightmarish for young William. He still remembers the orange-colored bite mark inflicted by one child in a household that took him in.
After an ill-fated reunification with his parents, William landed in foster care a second time, years later, and stayed there until adulthood.
These are the kinds of experiences that can cause lifetime problems, issues that make the statistics of success for foster children sobering – negligible college graduation rates, high incidence of drug use and crime, and extremely limited career prospects.
But William was not having any of that. Even in the harshest of circumstances, he generally did well in school and was determined to overcome his traumas.
Today, Officer William Belt is a 29-year-old beacon of hope for children and young adults facing the same challenges he did. Not only has William built an outstanding career in law enforcement, he also sits on the board of Embrace Families, Central Florida’s leading child-welfare agency, to make sure today’s vulnerable kids get all the support they can.
In this role, and on the job, William is frequently sought out for counsel from current foster-care children, especially those that are about to age out of the system.
“I decided a long time ago that I would not be a victim,” William says.
And when he talks to foster children, he encourages them to take the same approach.
“They will say, ‘My life is over,’” William says, “and I tell them, ‘No, your life has just begun.’“
A Long and Winding Road
At age seven, William was in an unstable environment, living with his parents at an uncle’s house. One day at school, he learned that he would not be going home for the foreseeable future.
“I didn’t even have any of my belongings,” William recalls. “All I knew was my family. It’s what most seven-year-olds know. I was scared.”
William would spend the next few years moving from one foster-care setup to the next. Usually, he was in a group home, but he also spent time with private families, where children often treated him as an unwelcome outsider. His only positive situation came at age nine, when he lived with the compassionate mother of a grown child in Celebration.
“She’s probably the reason I am where I am,” William says.
By then, his parents had separated. William was released from the system at age 10 and spent several years bouncing back and forth between his parents. The instability continued, and at around the age of 15, William was back in foster care.
This time around, he says, the whole experience was much different. Though he was still living in group homes, he found much more support from the foster-care system and caring adults.
He thrived at Lyman High School, where he played football and fatefully met Timothy Casel, son of Geneva resident Glen Casel, the longtime CEO of Embrace Families.
By sheer coincidence, Glen was the neighbor of William’s younger sister, Kayla, who was also living in a foster home. Glen would become William’s mentor.
“I could call him anytime day or night,” William says.
He joined a youth advisory board for the organization that would evolve to become Embrace Families. He initiated a valuable program that helps foster kids get driver’s licenses and car insurance.
Glen calls William’s childhood “very unstable and very sad.” However, he says, “To see who and what he is today is remarkable.”
Glen recalls how William stumbled occasionally during his second stint in foster care, but never doubted that things would work out.
“There are the ones you worry about, and the ones you just kind of know are going to be OK,” Glen says.
Despite his triumphs, William will always carry the pain of loss. While he was in foster care, priceless childhood possessions ended up in an unpaid-for storage unit and then, presumably, a garbage dumpster.
“All the stuff I ever had as a kid,” he says, “pictures, trophies, awards, Cub Scout memorabilia, you name it, it’s gone.”
William is not in touch with his biological mother these days, and his father, to whom he felt much closer, died in 2010.
“He was a very caring, very social man,” says William.
After college, William spent seven years in the restaurant industry until he developed a strong urge to serve the community that had been so good to him. He decided to become a cop, something that he daydreamed about as a kid.
William joined a police academy in 2016, then landed at the Altamonte Springs Police Department a year later as a patrol officer.
Though his childhood years were tough, William is positive that those experiences make him a better police officer today. It gives him validity, especially when dealing with those who also come from troubled homes. Most of the time, he says, they just want someone they can connect with and relate to. To those he interacts with out on the streets, William proves how a difficult childhood can be overcome.
“I am constantly trying to improve myself,” William says. “I’m not done.”
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