When people hear the word “teen” and “foster care” in the same sentence, they tend to tense up. All too often they picture a pierced and tatted teenager full of angst and bad choices. But what if I challenged that view? What if I told you all too often they look nothing like that at all? What if it’s a doting sixteen-year-old girl who just wants to be near her three-year-old brother that she has helped raise since birth. What if it’s a 12-year-old boy who loves soccer and his 13-year-old brother who loves the outdoors. What if it was just normal teenage kids whose parents were the ones who made the bad choices, not them.
Teens do not enter care because they are “bad kids”; they enter care for the same reason all other children do, because of abuse or neglect. Teens, like all children are longing for safety, a loving home and the ability to be near their siblings. In the state of Arizona alone teens make up over 60% of the children in group homes.
A few weeks ago, during our “Night of Hope” event Arizona Faith and Families heard from Amber Smith, a woman who is changing the way siblings and teens are viewed in foster care. Amber runs a co-ed group home in Gilbert, Arizona. She provides a place for brothers and sisters to remain together under the same roof. Something that is almost unheard of in the state of Arizona. All too often homes are willing to take in just females or just males. They are willing to take in just teens or just littles. But Amber challenges how things are “normally” run and instead says give me the largest sibling group you have and I’ll provide the home they need. Currently she is housing a sibling group of 5 under her roof. Five brothers and sisters ranging from ages 6-17. I asked Amber why she decided to do this and she responded by saying “children deserve to be with their siblings no matter their age or gender”. She went on to share how special it is to see all five siblings sitting at a dinner table together praying and eating with one another. She believes it helps reduce some of the trauma that they have encountered by entering care when they can remain with their family.
Amber shared that a typical sibling group is around 3 children and comprised of mixed genders. She shared that they can range in age from 5-17 or 6-13. When asked what the greatest barrier from getting teens into foster homes she said it was peoples fear of teens and teens fear of people. She shared that she has found the teens in care constantly fear being judged. They fear that people are talking about them and thinking of them as “the bad kids”. They fear that people won’t want to take them in and will not accept them for who they are. The sad reality is that this is all too true. So many times, people are fearful of the teens, thinking they are scary or bad. Foster parents are also hesitant to take in a teen who may have trouble bonding or is careful to express love and gratitude.
So what do we do? How do we challenge and change this view of thinking? I asked Amber what are teens looking for in a family? And she shared the following…
Teens are looking for someone who cares about their interests. In their deep heart of hearts, they want a mom and dad. They want the mother who braids their hair and the father who attends their soccer games. They want to be loved and accepted rather than judged and feared. Teens want what every other child in foster care wants: to be loved and to be safe. These children; who at the end of the day are still children, just want a safe family to come home to at night and that’s what they deserve no matter their age.
So I challenge you today to rethink the way you see teens in care. Rethink the way you see family or your home. If you have an open heart and a home with enough space, maybe God is calling you to care for these sibling groups. IF you really want to help foster children in Arizona, consider meeting the largest need we have: Teens and siblings.
Interested in finding out more about becoming a foster parent? Visit our orientation page and get started today!