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Op-ed | More New Yorkers should step up for teens in foster care

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BY SARAH DEME

My husband and I have been blessed with over 30 kids. And we are looking forward to more. That’s because it’s a blessing to be a foster parent, especially to a teenager. Older children in foster care need more New Yorkers to step up to fill the role.  As a foster parent 22 times over, I highly recommend it.

We became foster parents when our biological daughter left for college over 15 years ago. Being empty nesters did not suit us; we loved the energy of having kids in the house and being able to offer guidance to someone who’s on the precipice of adulthood.

New York City has made big strides in reducing the number of kids entering foster care by instituting interventions to keep families together. In 2006 over 7,000 kids entered care; in 2016 it was a little over 3,000. But that still means that thousands of children need a safe, stable, and loving home. And because teenagers tend to get a bad rap, foster care agencies often struggle to find parents willing to take them in.

It’s true that fostering kids of any age isn’t always easy, especially at first. Children have different experiences, struggles, and personalities. You have to work to get to know each other, figure out how to communicate, and give children the time and space they need to build trust with a new adult while dealing with the anxieties of separation.

But we didn’t need to go it alone. Organizations like the foster care agency we work with, The Children’s Village, provide extensive support, including foster parent support groups (now all virtual) and 24/7 on-call service to help with everything from crisis de-escalation to settling misunderstandings.

And the rewards of fostering a teen far outweigh the work.  As a foster parent, you provide a child with the thing a child needs the most: a stable, loving adult in their lives. In my experience, there is no greater reward than being that person.

The other day my son, Justin, who joined our home five years ago, told me, “Ma (yes, he calls me that), someday I’m going to get a tattoo with the date that I moved here because that’s the first time I truly had a home.”

Thousands of kids in New York City deserve that same experience. I’m calling on my fellow New Yorkers who can, to step up and be a foster parent.

Sarah Deme is a foster parent. She lives in Harlem.

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