Young adults share experiences of struggles to find foster homes as teenagers

According to data from the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office, teens in the foster care system have on average 6.6 placements in their lifetime.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 3:40 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2023 at 4:53 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - For 18-year-old Dora and 20-year-old Alyssa, walking into Cedar’s Home for Kids is like walking into a childhood home.

“I spent my birthday here, I spent Christmas here once,” Dora said.

Dora has been in foster care since she was thirteen and just now got into a foster home. Alyssa was in foster care from 15 to 18. She got into a home at 18 and aged out. For both of them, in those years of instability, Cedar’s was the only constant.

“I spent almost 600 days here at the shelter over the whole span here at the shelter,” Alyssa said.

Both Dora and Alyssa said they were in and out of other shelters, group homes, independent living settings, and detention centers, often only staying in the same place for a few weeks at a time.

“It makes it really, really difficult,” Alyssa said. “When I’m moving around from place to place, the whole trust thing. It’s like I had nothing with nobody and it takes a really long time to build that trust.”

They’re not alone. There are more than 4,200 kids in the foster care system in Nebraska. 38% of them are teenagers and are less likely to find a stable foster home. It’s a story Dora said she knows too well.

“I couldn’t find a home because nobody wanted a teenager to put it like that,” Dora said. “It was really tough for me.”

According to data from the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office, teens in the foster care system have on average 6.6 placements in their lifetime. That’s more than double the average of 3.7 placements for kids 6 to 12 and more than triple the average for kids under 5. Both Dora and Alyssa said the instability has had wide-ranging impacts.

“I graduated high school late because I was getting moved around so much,” Alyssa said. “Getting moved from like, Lancaster County to Omaha messed with my credits really bad and I fell behind.”

Alyssa did eventually graduate from an online military school. She also didn’t get her driver’s license until 18, another milestone that’s hard to manage for kids in the foster system.

“I would say I’m pretty late,” Dora said. “I’m just now learning how to drive.”

The Foster Care Review office keeps track of data surrounding education and preparation for adulthood. In their 2022 annual report, 87% of kids in foster care attend school regularly, and 60% are “on target” academically in all core classes. However, 40% are not. The report said, “for many children that experienced a transient lifestyle and trauma before removal, being academically on target can be difficult to achieve.”

As far as preparation for adulthood, the report outlines concerns of teens who age out of foster care finding themselves “ill-prepared for adult life.” The system has taken steps to help this. Teens are supposed to complete an independent living assessment aimed at determining the youth’s strengths and skills still needed. FCRO data shows only about 25% of teens across the state have completed that assessment as of the data gathered for the 2022 report.

Both Dora and Alyssa said their lives are on track now, because of their own diligence and getting into stable foster homes.

“Things now are great,” Dora said. “I work in a pharmacy, I’m hopefully graduating in May from SCC. I’m going to go into nursing and get my CNA, I want to do phlebotomy so I have a lot of goals.”

Alyssa said she has her own apartment, her car, a job at a daycare, and her own pets. When she turns 21, she hopes to work at Cedar’s with the kids who are now in the situation she was once in.

“I basically have the life I wanted to have when I wasn’t able to have it,” Alyssa said. “It really does get better.”

10/11 asked them what they’d want potential foster parents to know about taking on teenagers. Alyssa said foster parents need to be patient and understanding.

“One thing you really have to remember is that at the teenager age that’s where we like to know about things that have happened, so it’s very hard for us to trust when we’ve been moved from foster home to foster home and placement to placement,” Alyssa said. ‘most teenagers always tend to come off as rude at first but it’s just us being very cautious.”

Dora said with the right intentions, it can make a big difference.

“If your heart is in the right place, and if what you’re really doing is to help us and it will mean so much then do it because and if your heart is not to help us then please do not do it at all because it’s going to hurt us and damage us in a long way.”