NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It is a Christmas wish that hundreds of children get every year, but for thousands more in the foster care system, especially those who are older, the wait for a forever family continues.
Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said many families who want to adopt or be foster parents are focused on babies and toddlers, so those in their teen years are hardest to place.
“Adolescents really have a need for a connection with caring adults who can help them deal with the many experiences they may have had that have had an adverse impact on their growth and development,” O’Neal said, “and really speak to their need for someone to be really nurturing and supportive of them.”
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services maintains several requirements that must be met by persons interested in the foster care program.
According to its website, those interested in becoming a foster parent must be able to give without the expectation of immediate returns, have a room in their house and daily schedules to take care of a child, learn and use behavioral management skills, and love and care for kids who sometimes have various health or behavioral issues.
Given the complexities involved in caring for a foster child, adolescents are often overlooked.
And because older foster kids who age out of the system are more apt to struggle with negative life events, like unplanned pregnancy or unemployment, O’Neal said there are efforts to give them support.
“We have a major contract with Youth Villages that ensures every child who ages out of foster care in Tennessee has the opportunity to receive services to help them with skills for a job, or to help them negotiate financial aid in college applications, and to really do the kinds of things for them that we do for our own children to help them make that transition,” she said.
In Tennessee, there are about 8,000 children in the foster care system.
To find out more about the state-run foster care system or learn more about becoming a foster parent, visit www.tn.gov.