Loving those left behind: caring for older kids in foster care
Updated: October 8, 2017 at 2:36 pm
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Whenever stories are shared about adopting or fostering children, much of the time the lucky kids are infants, toddlers or very young children. LGBTQ parents often turn to fostering and adoption to have families, in many cases due to difficulty getting pregnant. These generalizations are not always the case, since older children and LGBTQ parents can find truly happy homes together.
“In my experience foster and adoptive parents typically want to work with and/or adopt babies and younger children,” said Nakia Batts, an 18-year veteran of family services agencies. This leaves older children who, “instead of rising up to their potential, they usually respond by behaving down to the preconceived notions.”
Batts is the N.C. executive director of Lutheran Services Carolinas, an agency made up of two social ministry organizations: Lutheran Services for the Aging and Lutheran Family Services, which serves children in foster care and adoption services. The primary reason that older children struggle harder to find homes, Batts said, is simple ignorance — an issue that many LGBTQ people have faced themselves.
“There is a misconception that older children bring more challenges, have severe problems and are harder to maintain,” Batts told qnotes. “Older children in foster care face the stigma of being unmanageable, set in their ways and having too many behavioral issues. This is a huge problem because parents do not think they can reach this population.”
Rachel and Alesa Rosenfeld of Charlotte, N.C., know the falsity of this notion from their decades of fostering youth. Rachel, a school psychologist, and Alesa, an after-school teacher with two biological children, made it their mission to give homes to the older children who are often left behind in favor of cute babies and lisping toddlers.
“My first job was in residential treatment,” Rachel Rosenfeld explained. “I decided then that I could make a difference with one child in my home that I never could with 64. Because of my background and training, I really wanted to work with older and harder-to-place youth. It feels like a calling to me.”
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It’s a calling that can lead to endless fulfillment, said Batts, whose organization functions as a foster care and adoption agency with offices in many cities.
“Rewards for parents are seeing the differences one can make in someone’s life, no matter the age,” Batts said. “And assisting youth in identifying opportunities they didn’t know they had, and building healthy long-lasting relationships with adults — for some this is the first time in their lives.”
The Rosenfelds have lived to build these long-lasting connections, providing opportunities and nurturing that many of their foster kids lacked in former homes. One of the Rosenfelds’ recent foster children did “age out” of the program — turning 18 without much means of independent living — but remains close with the mothers who gave them a home. These parents know that a birthday does not mean as much as a strong foundation for independent living.
“They are 19 and tried living with biological family and friends,” Rosenfeld explained. “That didn’t work out, so they moved back in with us. We are working on helping them reach independence.”
Unfortunately, not all foster children have such support when they come of age. Youth often go through multiple foster placements while trying to find “the right fit,” Batts said. This instability has lasting effects on a young person reaching adulthood; they may “age out” of services without the experience to prepare for unaided, independent life.
“There are very few programs available in N.C. to assist these youth in transitioning out of ‘the system’ and into an adult home,” Batts said. “There are many children who age out of foster care, adoption is not an option, and they end up on the streets, especially for those who have no support system. Some children who age out, are not prepared or ready to step into the next chapter of their lives.”
Doing their part to fill that gap, the Rosenfelds have gone through additional training in order to work with older youth. The couple’s foster agency sponsored them to attend the Transhealth Conference in Philadelphia, Pa. in order to better serve transgender youth in foster care. Unfortunately, the mothers said, even “the system” doesn’t always provide the best support for older children and their foster parents.
“Most of the resources out there are for parents of younger children,” Alesa Rosenfeld said. “We have had to find many resources ourselves and have done that more so in the community than in our foster parent agency. We take classes through our agency and kind of tweak what we learn to apply it to our older children.”
Although there are gaps in resources provided for older foster kids and their foster parents, determined parenting like the Rosenfelds’ can make up the difference. For LGBTQ youth, who make up 40 percent of homeless teens according to a 2012 Williams Insititute study, finding an accepting foster family is an even bigger challenge.
Lutheran Services Carolinas, Batts’ organization, not only includes LGBTQ parents and youth, but strives provide more targeted services for members of this underserved population.
“We recently received grant funding to enhance our existing foster care program to provide services specifically catered for youth who identify as LGBTQ,” Batts shared. “Children who identify as LGBTQ [have] the added stressors (outside of being placed into care) of being misunderstood, lacking acceptance by others, and stereotypes surrounding the LBGTQ community affects their experience.”
Foster and adoption agencies generally do disclose parents’ and children’s LGBTQ identities, Batts said, in order “to ensure a clinically appropriate match so that the family and/or child can a make an informed decision prior to a placement.” Although this can be a disadvantage, for the Rosenfelds, it turned out to be a blessing.
“Being an LGBTQ couple has made us more open when it comes to LGBTQ kids. Unfortunately, many foster parents don’t want these kids in their homes,” Alesa Rosenfeld said. “So our reputation precedes us, and when our agency gets a call about LGBTQ kids, they usually call us. They know there will be no prejudice here and they will be welcomed and allowed to be themselves.”
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