Needed: Foster parents for Utah teens; Teens in foster care need 'a break' to turn around their lives
The McFarlands have seven children, all adopted. The couple has also fostered some 40 girls in state custody over the past nine years. Maryanne McFarland just calls them "my girls" and her relationship with many of them continues.
The McFarlands are the trusted pair many of the girls call when they've had a bad week, they need advice about a car repair or they want to share the happy news of an engagement or a pregnancy.
"My girls are just regular girls. They want to go to prom. They want have their nails done. They want to be girls and have fun and reach their goals. They have the same dreams as any teenage girl," she said.
Teenagers end up in foster care for the same reasons as younger children, "abuse or neglect in their biological homes," Hamblin said.
Finding them support by increasing the number of foster families is the focus of the Utah Foster Care Foundation, which will conduct three public forums featuring teenagers who have been in foster care as well as foster families that have experience with caring for teens.
Teens who don't forge bonds are less likely to graduate from high school, thus at higher risks of unemployment and homelessness. One study reports 30 percent of children who age out of foster care end up incarcerated.
Locally, roughly half of the teens and young adults served by Volunteers of America — Utah's programs for homeless youth — were in the state's foster care system at some point in their lives, said spokeswoman Michelle Templin.
"That's a pretty big number of kids who were involved in foster care or aged out of foster care who didn't have the skills or the financial resources to move into self-sufficiency," Templin said.
"There a lot of kids who need foster adoptions. They're really important to help young people grow into adults."
Maryanne McFarland said she and her husband have gleaned many life lessons from their experiences with the girls.
"When you hear their stories you think 'When is this kid going to get a break?' You'll see one thing upon another upon another that has happened. You think 'That kid needs a break. That break could be you.'"
Rosa McFarland, now 27, has profound appreciation for the difference her adoptive family made in her life, as well as their ongoing efforts on behalf of teenage girls they care for as foster parents.
"They did me the biggest favor saying they wanted to keep me. I didn't think I was adoptable," Rosa McFarland said. "Nobody wants to be on their own. They want to be loved and cared for and comfortable."
Starting Wednesday night in Orem, the Utah Foster Care Foundation will host three public forums this month on the rewards and challenges of fostering teenagers.
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Utah Foster Care Foundation Offices
274 West Center Street
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Utah Foster Care Foundation offices
5296 S. Commerce Drive, Suite 400
Saturday, Feb. 25, 10 a.m. - noon
Holy Family Catholic Church
1100 East 5550 South
Participants should RSVP at (877) 505-KIDS
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