May is Foster Care Awareness Month. In honor of the month, Oregon Foster Youth Connection (a program of Our Children Oregon) and Every Child Oregon worked collaboratively on this piece.

SAM (Youth Impacted by Foster Care): I got placed into care when I was 16. I grew up in a very unhealthy environment with my biological family. Before I came into care I had taken on more responsibility than a typical teenager should and normally would.

My foster parents had to teach me how to be a teenager. Through this I resented them, because I wanted things to stay the same. Now that I am 20, I realize how helpful they have been in my development.

Now I see that my first and only placement was the best placement I could have imagined. My foster parents supported every decision I made, both the good and the bad. They supported me joining many groups in school, even when they knew that I was overextending myself. But, they were determined to help me learn how to manage my time effectively. If they hadn’t pushed me to be a teenager and enjoy life, I would not be where I am today.

They have continued to support me through college, knowing that I would have a harder time financially than my peers. They still support me to this day, and I call them my parents.

I am very grateful for everything they’ve done for me. By being in this singular amazing placement I have had a chance to discover who I am in a loving and caring environment.

In Oregon, 27 percent of kids in foster care are teens, an estimated 2,079 youth (13 and older). We dream of a day when every child in Oregon would have a safe, strategic loving home where they can thrive. There’s still work to be done for youth like Sam.

VENNISA (Foster Parent): Every time a child enters your home, there are major unknowns. Will this work? Will they like us? How will our decision to foster affect them or the other children in our home?

The first teen we cared for was 17 years old. When she walked through the door, she was timid and fearful with a look of embarrassment on her face. My heart ached. I wanted to hug her tightly and let her know she was safe, but I knew I had trust to build. Instead, I just smiled, showed her to her room, and invited her to join us for dinner.

I knew from personal experience that we’d be instrumental in helping her fight feelings of insecurity, unbelonging, and fear; but quickly recognized that she carried mistaken responsibility for what brought her into care. Our focus became helping her see the truth about who she is and her value, and to speak hope into her life. It was the greatest honor!

We never know how long we’re going to have a youth in our home, so we’re on a mission to be their biggest champions and help them self-advocate in any situation that arises.

Teens need healthy outlets and a community around them. They need space to grow and explore and engage in things that bring them joy, space to be a teenager. We want teens to not just live in our home, but to thrive in our home!

A successful foster placement is a nuanced equation that includes a strategic match, relationship and trust, community, and opportunity. This Foster Care Awareness Month, we celebrate the thousands of foster families in our state who provide safe havens, the community that supports kids and families in creative ways, and the kids and youth impacted by foster care who are the brilliant, brave, and passionate future makers in Oregon.

Vennisa Gerberg is the Assistant Director for Community Engagement for the Every Child effort in Portland, coined Embrace Oregon. Go to www.everychildoregon.org for more information about foster parenting, supporting foster parents or youth, or meeting needs in your community!

If you are a youth in foster care and would like to work with Sam to help impact the foster system in Oregon, please reach out to Oregon Foster Youth Connection at http://www.ofyc.org/get-involved/.

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