(BPT) - There are more than 150,000 teenagers experiencing foster care today in the United States. These teens are like any teenager - each with their own unique dreams, passions, personality and potential for the future.
Being a teenager can be a bumpy road for everyone. But the difference for teens experiencing foster care is they are often faced with the challenge of navigating these pivotal years without the support and guidance of a stable family system.
Adding to that challenge is the perception that teens experiencing foster care are 'troubled youth,' marred with bad attitudes and behavior problems. As a result, teenagers experiencing foster care are among some of the hardest-to-place youth in the child welfare system.
The child welfare nonprofit Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) is launching the campaign Foster Me - Developing Dreams for Flourishing Futures to raise awareness about the need for foster parents to open up their hearts and homes and help develop the dreams of teens experiencing foster care nationwide.
Whether you are familiar with being a foster parent, considering fostering, or wanting to learn more about how to support teens everywhere, these four truths are likely to change the way you think about teens experiencing foster care.
1. Teens experiencing foster care are there due to no fault of their own
It is a common and unfortunate misconception that teens (or any youth) in foster care are there because of something they did, or because of bad behavior.
The truth is that youth experiencing foster care have been impacted by systemic issues such as poverty, domestic violence, parental incarceration, mental illness, and a lack of resources to preserve youth remaining in their family origin.
The goal of the child welfare system is to prevent the need to remove children from their family through focused treatment and interventions to resolve issues that threaten family stability. However, when that can't happen, youth are placed with a foster family so they can have a safe, loving home until they are able to be reunited with their biological family.
2. Teens in foster care need access to the same opportunities as all teens
The statistics facing teens experiencing foster care are staggering. Nearly 50% of teens experiencing foster care will not graduate from high school, only half will be employed by the age of 24, and one in five will be homeless by the age of 18.
The reality is all teens, no matter their circumstances, deserve the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.
Child welfare agencies like SAFY work every day with teens to identify their strengths and interests to help them set achievable goals for future success.
All youth greatly benefit from having a supportive and nurturing family. Through the campaign Foster Me - Developing Dreams for Flourishing Futures, the hope is to remind caring adults of what they needed when they were teenagers, and how fostering a teen can be a rewarding and life-changing experience for a youth and a parent.
3. Teens in foster care are never too old to need stability and routine
According to Casey Family Programs, child development research shows that youth need consistency, predictability, and attachment to a caring adult to thrive. Instability through multiple foster home placements has been found to lead to delayed permanency, academic achievement, and development.
When a teen experiencing foster care is supported academically, socially, and with their physical and mental health, they are able to heal and build trusting relationships that contribute to their well-being and ability to thrive.
4. Teens in foster care are more than their case file
Often times, youth in foster care are reduced to the words and labels written about them in a file with little to no context. It's been said that the longer a child is in the foster care system, the more labels they carry with them.
Any adult can relate to the labels and growing pains associated with being a teenager. All teens - regardless of whether they are experiencing foster care or not - are more than labels, and with the right family support can grow and thrive. As a society, our goal should be to see the value in teens everywhere, and never give up on them becoming successful adults.
The bottom line: Teens experiencing foster care are just like any average American teen! And just one caring adult can make all the difference in helping them achieve their dreams and have a flourishing future.
It's up to all of us to ensure these teens experiencing foster care aren't left behind. If you would like to learn learn more about becoming a foster parent or how you can support teens and youth in the foster care system, visit www.safy.org. We are actively recruiting foster families in our operating states, which include Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, and South Carolina. If you live outside of these seven states but would like to begin your foster parent journey, contact your local department of family services.