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Sound off: Take this step to change lives | Opinion

Take this step to change lives

You may have heard the heartbreaking interviews of celebrities who spent part of their childhood in foster care. You’ve probably seen the moving story of an adoptive parent who “made all the difference” to a child who grew up to be something of an icon, a changemaker.

Perhaps you have browsed an article online about the national foster care crisis. Or perhaps you recognize the colloquial language of foster parents in a politician’s campaign, which promises to “keep our children out of group homes” and find homes for them. Foster care is not for stories, interviews and campaigns. This doesn’t just happen in the lives of stars and influencers. We have so many young people in foster care, especially teenagers, here in Indiana who need a safe, temporary home while they await reunification with their families. But there are not enough foster homes for everyone.

The number of young people in foster care statewide in 2020 was 15,084. The most alarming number to consider is the total number of foster homes available that same year: just 5,708. is not enough homes available to accommodate the number of young people in foster care. So why is this such a big deal?

Well, here’s the shameful truth: Older youth and teenagers are NOT the ones placed in our available foster homes. Teenagers are the ones who end up being placed in group homes and shelters, primarily due to stigma, fear, and prejudice. People believe in the stigma perpetuated by the media about adopting teenagers: “They’re set in their ways”, “They’re all troubled and dramatic”, “They’re violent and dangerous”. These prejudices are just manufactured opinions: stigmatizing, biased and fear-based beliefs about adolescents who need our support more than anything.

These teenagers in foster care are friends of our children. They are our nieces, nephews and young family friends. They are our neighbours. They are just kids in big bodies who are terrified, frustrated, and feel unloved and unwanted.Young people who experience the foster care system need foster parents to stand by them and walk through the fear with them. They need positive adult role models like many of us were blessed with in our own childhoods. The more we drive teenagers away because of our fear and supposed inadequacies to raise them effectively, the more stigma we perpetuate and the more teenagers grow up traumatized and with little hope for their future.

This is why our foster parents are important. That is why the adults – young, old, married, single, straight, gay, rich, poor – who engage with these young people by opening their homes and their hearts are the ones who instil this hope in the future of our youth. That’s why we celebrate foster parents.May is National Foster Parent Appreciation Month. The National Youth Advocate Program appreciates hard-working, stigma-busting foster parents everywhere. Their efforts and sacrifices are unparalleled. Just like our own children, teens in foster care see and feel that hope when they are placed in loving, safe, and nurturing homes with foster parents who truly want them to succeed.

There’s a great quote from Josh Shipp: “Every child is a caring adult who is far from a success.” Don’t let fear stop you from becoming an adoptive parent and being that caring adult. NYAP will help ease the fear, but you have to take the first step. Be bold and willing community leaders and mentors, answering the call to provide safe and nurturing homes for adolescents. Join the ranks of some of the best people working 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 overcome these fears. Rise up, take this step to change lives and restore hope.

Foster parents everywhere: we thank you.

Samantha O’Neal, Regional Manager, National Youth Advocate Program, Inc.