There are too many foster teens in Seminole County who don’t know the warmth of a loving home. It’s Sharon Shoemaker’s job to help them find one.
There are nearly 100 foster homes in Seminole County. Inside these homes, dedicated families give children in foster care the stability and support their biological parents could not provide. But of the hundreds of children being raised in these foster homes, only six of them are teenagers.
“In Seminole County, 79 percent of teens in foster care are waiting to be welcomed into foster homes,” says Andrea Dezso, the social media and public relations manager at the Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS). “This is higher than the state average of 59 percent.”
Foster parent recruiter and Longwood resident Sharon Shoemaker is on the front lines advocating for these teens. Sharon’s decades of experience have prepared her for her current role with CHS, which includes licensing potential foster parents and helping to place children in homes that provide love and support.
“It’s true that we always need foster homes for children ages zero to 18,” says Sharon, “but at this point, our recruitment efforts and our outreach in the community is for teens. Right now, that is our need.”
Without an adequate number of foster homes, teens in the system will remain in group care until their families work through whatever challenges prevent their teenage children from returning home. While group care is necessary, it’s not ideal. A group home – where teens might live alongside multiple children their own age, all with different personalities – simply doesn’t suit every child.
“We know that we have better outcomes for children who are in foster homes, in a family-like setting,” says Sharon.
Sharon and her staff are constantly trying to find families who would be a good fit for these children, but statistics show that for those ages 11 and up, it’s much harder to find suitable matches.
This is because teens, unfortunately, sometimes get a bad rap.
“I think there are some misconceptions in the community,” says Sharon. “People assume that these children came into care at a very young age, that they’ve been in and out of system placements, and they are looking for a foster family because of some trouble that they have caused. The truth is often just the opposite. Sometimes, children enter the foster-care system as teens because they’re finally old enough to tell their story, to reach out for help. They’re reporting abuse in their home as opposed to someone else reporting it. Teens come in for various reasons, but they are here through no fault of their own.”
Sharon admits there’s often an expectation that fostering a teen would be more difficult than helping a younger child, but that’s not always the case.
We would like to clear that up,” she says.
In addition, Sharon says there is a lot of extra support for families who foster teenagers.
“We offer additional, specialized training in trauma, including support from counselors, therapists, and mentors,” she explains. “You’re not alone.”
While not everyone can foster, Sharon says there are two things that almost anyone can do. The first is to become a mentor. Many older children simply need quality time with a responsible adult.
“Mentoring helps to dispel some of the preconceived notions about teens,” says Sharon. “If you spend some time with these teens, you can see that this is a child who has hopes and dreams and interests and needs some support.”
The second thing is to have your church or organization host a question-and-answer session run by Embrace Families (formerly Community Based Care of Central Florida).
“You provide the venue, and we have a panel of people who will come out to talk about fostering in general and about the need for teen foster homes,” says Sharon, who is part of those panels in Seminole County. “There’s no commitment, there’s no hard sell – we’re just having a talk.”
More teens enter the local foster-care system every day, and there’s been a noticeable increase in the last six months. To find out what you can do to help, contact Sharon directly at 407-340-8707 or visit CHSFL.org for more information.
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