By Mike Hamblin
Director of Recruitment
Utah Foster Care
“When I realized that I was making a decision about a specific boy, and not just any random teen, it made a difference.”
Karrie, a Salt Lake Region foster parent, was referring to the difference it made in her ability to make a decision. As she considered what children she might care for, she was thinking about age ranges. But later, as she considered the specific children, her focus became the child and she found herself no longer looking at the child’s age. This realization didn’t just make a difference in her decision making. It also made a difference…a big difference…in the lives of teens she has since cared for.
In January, a Fostering Teens Forum was held in the Murray Utah Foster Care offices. In spite of the cold and snowy evening, more than 50 gathered to hear three foster families and a teen adopted from foster care share their experiences. Some were currently licensed families considering whether or not to care for older children. Others were looking at becoming foster parents for the first time and simply wanted to know more. All had the opportunity to ask questions and find out what it might be like to care for a teen.
“What kind of support do families caring for teens get?” “How do you deal with sibling rivalry?” “Can they be left home alone when I go to the store?” “Do you have children the same age and how do they fit together?” “Do you recommend caring for children younger than yours or older?” “What can you do to build a relationship with them?” And to the teen on the panel, “How long did it take you to feel trust? How long before it felt like your home?”
I think what stood out to me wasn’t that these are teens IN FOSTER CARE. But that they are TEENS, who happen to be in foster care. And the three foster families on the panel seemed to emphasize that, reporting that friends and neighbors have all experienced situations with their own children that aren’t much different than what they have seen as foster parents. (As the father of two teen boys, I am a witness to the fact that they don’t always get along, sometimes things get broken, and that no one likes to clean their room or do homework – well, unless it is their turn to wash the dishes.)
About half of the children in foster care are teens. And caring for teens is not without its benefits – like no diapers and they feed and dress themselves. Yet we struggle to find enough families for all of the children who are ready to be placed in a family setting. For some reason we get scared by the age, when perhaps a better focus when determining our capacity to care for them would be the youth’s behavior and needs. As one of the panelists put it, “You think you’re scared? Think how scared these kids are. The stakes are higher for them.”
There will be three more opportunities during February; in Ogden, Orem, and St. George, to attend a Fostering Teens Forum and learn more about caring for teens. Please RSVP by calling 877-505-5437. Dinner will be provided and in-service training hours are available for currently licensed families.
Ogden DCFS Offices
950 25th Street, Ogden
Thursday, February 7th
St. George UFC Offices
491 E. Riverside Dr., #2B
Wednesday, February 20th
Orem UFC Offices
274 West Center St.
Thursday, February 21st