Updated: February 19, 2020 10:35 PM
Created: February 19, 2020 10:25 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— While being a foster parent can be highly rewarding, it can also come with many challenges. For one foster parent that challenge came in the form of teenagers.
The foster parent, who wished to remain anonymous, highlighted the problems with the state’s foster care system when it comes to caring for older children.
“As a first time foster parent, I thought I could do anything,” she said.
The foster parent started like many other foster parents do—by taking in young children. About a year ago she started to foster teenagers and has since taken care of a dozen teens.
“Our teens are in crisis so right now any placement call you are getting in Bernalillo County most likely is a teenager,” she said.
CYFD estimates only about 10% of foster homes in Bernalillo County are willing to take in teens. Out of those homes, only some foster parents are specifically licensed to handle teens with more challenging behavioral issues.
In Bernalillo County, there are 238 teens in the foster care system. That’s out of about 2,300 foster kids statewide.
The foster parent that KOB 4 spoke with said she does not recall any specific training on how to care for teens nor teens with major behavioral issues or trauma.
“Quite frankly, they can be dangerous. They need boundaries. They have the body strength of a 17-year-old and the emotional intelligence of a 6-year-old,” she said. “My safety was at risk at certain times.”
“I was sorely underprepared for teenagers,” she added.
Foster parents and shelters who take in teens said many of them already have criminal records. KOB 4 asked CYFD for specific data about foster teens with criminal records but they admitted that it’s not something they track well.
CYFD provided numbers from August 2019 that showed 29 foster kids statewide had pending cases. The number did not include kids who have criminal records tied to cases that are closed.
CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock did not exactly answer KOB 4’s questions about foster parents’ concerns for safety.
KOB 4 Reporter: Have you heard from foster parents who have pretty scary stories about what they have experienced trying to take in teens and then end up realizing that drugs are being dealt out of their home. Some of these teens have been sex trafficked. Have you heard those stories from them?
Blalock: So we have a pretty good communication with foster parents and that's only increasing. That's something that I'm really proud of since I came here a year ago.
KOB 4 Reporter: Have you heard those stories though?
Blalock: I've heard lots of stories. I've heard rewarding, positive stories about kids doing well and like I said right now in the state of New Mexico, because of what's happening, what's happened here on policy decisions over the last five years or decade, there's not a lot of service. There's not enough service for our youth.
Part of Secretary Blalock’s job is to improve the foster program. Blalock said he is already planning new training for foster parents, which will be ready in the fall. He is also hoping for funding in the state budget that will go toward behavioral health services.
“It's a lot of trauma. It's a lot of adverse experiences that are happening to our children. So then when our children need somebody to talk to, somebody who is not their parent, not their sibling, but someone to talk to who can help them navigate that trauma, we simply don't have those services in New Mexico in any sort of prevalence anywhere,” Blalock said.
Blalock said CYFD is changing the way they assess children that come into the system in order to get a better understanding of their needs, strengths, weaknesses and traumas. For a foster parent, it’s good news.
Despite the challenges, the foster parent said she’ll keep taking in teens because they need somewhere to go.
“Their lives are day by day, right? So if you make one day of their life better, then you've done something important,” she said.
To learn more about becoming a foster parent, click here.
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