KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) A newly released report sheds light on the urgent need for foster families to welcome teenagers into their home.
As of August 1, 2019, there are 8,271 children in foster care in the state of Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Children Services.
A nationwide report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, revealed that 95% of children twelve and under live with families, while just 58% of teenagers do.
Pheben Kassahun spoke with a local foster care agency and a family hoping to defy the odds.
Over the last 20 years, Traces Foster Care Program, located in Kingsport, has helped more than 1200 children find stability and permanency. While the program recruiter said most families tend to go for younger children, one family specifically looks for teens to adopt.
We are introducing you to Terri and Terry Whitman.
“We just kind of took up a second career with doing this. We love it,” Terri Whitman said. “We were listening to a church service at a church we go to, but we were at home that day, so we were listening to it at home, and it was about using your talents for God.”
The couple has fostered more than 25 children in the span of 11 years.
Mrs. Whitman said, “We had several months of training, and we started out with respite children to see how were going to do, I guess. After that, we started having placements.”
While they love the idea of having a younger child, they connect more with teenagers.
“People are all wanting babies. I like a teenager because they can obviously make their own sandwhich when they’re hungry before I get dinner cooked,” she said. “They sort of have the sense of humor that we do. The kids that are smaller, they just look at us like, ‘what?’. We just like to be more cutup and carryon. We’ve really had a good time with a lot of our kids.”
They made the decision to adopt one of their foster children, but this one differs from the rest.
“We started the process at 19 and ended at 20,” Mrs. Whitman said. “We loved her very much for one thing. Another is, she had nowhere to go. Absolutely nowhere and she wanted to be adopted. We wanted to see her succeed in her life, so we adopted her so she could have support system and we could be her family when it comes to Christmas, Thanksgiving for the rest of her life.”
The Tennessee Department of Children Services said most of the children needing families are older. Many also have special emotional, behavioral or educational needs.
“Parents tend to have the thought that if they adopt a child that’s younger, that they’ll be able to help mold that child into what they would like them to become in becoming a successful and productive member of society, to really blend in with their family,” foster parent trainer and recruiter for Traces Foster Care Program, Courtney Mauk said.
Sometimes the trauma in teens tend to make potential foster parents stray away.
Mauk said, “A child would be adopted and this doesn’t necessarily have to be a teen, but that a child could be adopted and then, unfortunately the behaviors that they are expressing andmost of these behaviors are due to the trauma that they’ve experienced are too much for that parent to handle. There have been times that paernts have surrendered their parental rights to childrent hat they h ave adopted.”
However, those who are like the Whitmans are sure to be up for the challenge.
“If you have a talent that you can teach a teen, foster a teen, because you can take whatever talent, craft and give that child something to support their self with,” Mrs. Whitman said. “We travel with them. We take them to places they say they haven’t been. We try to make sure that if it’s driveable to go ahead and take them.”
Here are a list of local foster care and adoption program agencies in the Tri-Cities region:
- Bethany Christian Services (Johnson City, TN)
- DePaul Community Resources (Abingdon, VA)
- Holston United Methodist Home for Children (Greeneville, TN)
- Omni Visions (Jonesborough, TN)
- Traces Foster Care Program (Kingsport, TN)
- Youth Villages (Johnson City, TN)