You may have heard the heart-tugging interviews of celebrities who spent part of their childhood in foster care. No doubt you’ve seen the feel-good story of a foster parent who “made all the difference” for a child who grew up to be something of an icon, a change-maker. Maybe you’ve skimmed an article online about the national foster care crisis. Or maybe you recognized familiar foster care language in a politician’s campaign, who vows to “keep our kids out of group homes” and find them homes. Foster care is not for the stories, interviews and campaigns. It’s not only happening in the lives of stars and influencers. We have so many youth in foster care, especially teenagers, here in Indiana who are in need of a safe, temporary home while they await reunification with their family. But there are not enough foster homes for all of them.
The number of youth in foster care throughout the state of Indiana in 2020 was 15,084. The more alarming number to consider is the total number of foster homes available that same year: only 5,708. That’s not nearly enough available homes to serve the number of youth in foster care. So, why is this a big deal?
Well, here’s the shameful truth: older youth and teenagers are NOT the ones getting placed in our available foster homes. Teens are the ones who end up placed in group homes and shelters mostly due to stigma, fear and bias. People believe the media-perpetuating stigmas about fostering teens: “They are set in their ways,” “They are all troubled and dramatic,” “They are violent and dangerous.” These biases are just fabricated opinions: stigmatizing, biased, fear-based beliefs about teens who need our support more than anything.
These teens in foster care are friends of our children. They are our nieces, nephews and youth of family friends. They are our neighbors. They are just kids in big bodies who are terrified, frustrated and are left feeling unloved and unwanted.
Youth experiencing the foster care system need foster parents who will stand by them and walk through the fear with them. They need positive adult role models like so many of us were lucky enough to benefit from in our own childhoods. The further we push teens away due to our fear and assumed inadequacies to effectively parent them, the more we perpetuate the stigmas, and the more teens grow up traumatized and with little hope for their future.
THIS is why our foster parents matter. THIS is why adults–young, old, married, single, straight, gay, rich, poor—who commit themselves to these youth by opening their homes and hearts are the ones instilling that hope back into the futures of our youth. THIS is why we celebrate foster parents.
May is National Foster Parent Appreciation Month. National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP) appreciates hard-working, stigma-crushing foster parents everywhere. Their efforts and sacrifices are unmatched. Just like our own children, teens in foster care see and feel that hope when they’re placed in loving, safe, empowering homes with foster parents who truly want them to succeed.
There’s a beautiful quote from Josh Shipp: “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” Don’t allow fear to keep you from becoming a foster parent and being that caring adult. NYAP will help address the fear, but you have to take the first step. Be bold and willing community leaders and mentors, rising to the call to provide safe, nurturing homes for teens. Join the ranks of some of the finest people who work to help this young generation succeed. So this month, join NYAP for an orientation. Visit an online FAQ session. Let’s talk about how you can help and overcome those fears. Rise up, take that step to change lives and instill hope once again.
Foster parents everywhere: we thank you.