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Give Teen Boys a Chance

Published Wednesday, July 23, 2014


 

André used to cover his head with a pillow to block out the sounds of violence and terror that came from the adjoining room where his parents slept—and fought—day after day. He used to wish, even pray, to be someplace else where it was safe and quiet. Now, years later, he lives in a group home. At 17, he has been in the foster care system for nearly 8 years, and had to be removed from his last foster home because the kind middle-aged woman who had cared for him is now fighting cancer. Although the group home is okay, he now fears he will age out of the system in 14 months with no support system.

Teens in foster care in our community don’t need a second chance. They need a first.

Especially teen boys. Especially African American teen boys. Especially African American teen boys right here in Omaha.

There are more than 4,400 children in the child welfare system in Nebraska, and almost half of the children in foster care in Nebraska are ages 12–19. Approximately 70% of the kids who are available for adoption in the Omaha area who have not yet found adoptive homes are African American.

 

The need for families to foster teens is urgent.

“There is a disproportionate number of African American teens who have not found permanent homes—or foster homes—in our community,” notes Sarah Caldararo, Permanency Services Supervisor at Child Saving Institute. “Of the total number of kids in out of home care for the entire state, only 18% are African American, yet these children represent the population of greatest need.”

The percentage of youth that age out of foster care has increased. In 2000, the percentage of exits due to aging out was 7 percent. In 2012, 10 percent of the children who exited foster care aged out.

Without family or any other dependable adults to rely on for assistance, young people who have aged out of foster care without a permanent family face a variety of tragic outcomes, including homelessness, joblessness, mental illness, incarceration, substance abuse, welfare dependency, early childbearing, and sexual and physical victimization.

 

But you can stop that tragic cycle.

Teenagers in foster care are similar to the teens you already know: they worry about fitting in; they stress about homework, and are concerned about what clothes to wear.

But unlike most teens, they also worry about where they will be living a month from now. They wonder if their mom or dad is doing okay—if they’re making it to counseling. And they are unsure about making new friends and trusting people in a new place when they don’t know how long it will last.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy. Oftentimes these teens are prepared for the worst, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some think “Will they make me leave next week? Next month? No sense investing my time and trust in something that’s not going to pan out.”

But you should know it can also be easier and more rewarding than you could ever imagine. First of all, many of the challenges are no different than those of other parents raising their own biological children. For one thing, because they’ve experienced separation from people and places they know and love, they long to be a part of your family and they really appreciate your generosity (although they may be afraid of, and unskilled at, expressing it).

In addition, whereas young children often need your undivided attention, a teen will not. Although they will still need your advice and guidance, they may already have a certain amount of knowledge when it comes to living with different people and being independent.

And unlike bio parents, foster parents have personal support services to help them through the most difficult challenges. At Child Saving Institute, our unique foster parent services include one-on-one ongoing support including bi-weekly home visits by a Foster Care Specialist, ongoing educational opportunities and facilitated connections with experienced foster parents. Perhaps most important, you have access to an experienced, caring staff who are available to answer your phone calls any time of the day or night. We not only care about kids—we care about YOU and your success as a family.

One former foster child expressed it best when she said: “The legacy of being in the child welfare system is knowing that foster care affects your future as much as it affects your past.”

You may not be able to fix a past of pain and neglect, but you can certainly set a new course for a child’s future. Please consider fostering a teen boy.

If you’re interested in learning more about foster parenting and making a lasting difference in the life of a child, please contact Joan at 402-504-3649 or jcooper@childsaving.org.

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