Find Us on Facebook
by Ryan Imondi
On a recent Saturday in Southeast Portland, Susan Midland was enjoying a night out at the movies. She relaxed a few rows behind the four foster children that were living in her home. For Susan, this is down time.
“We usually let them sit a few rows in front of us,” she said. “No teenagers want their parents or guardians sitting right next to them when they are out at a movie.”
With the help of her daughter, Amanda Midland, and her daughter’s fiance, Sal Martin Rico, Susan has cared for teenagers in Oregon’s foster care system for the last year. Whether it’s a trip to get lunch or shopping at the mall, Susan is constantly surrounded by foster youth. As a foster parent, Susan provides shelter and care to youth who have experienced challenging childhoods. Susan often cares for teenagers who are behind in school or have been reprimanded for criminal activity.
“You hope that you are planting a few seeds to break negative cycles,” she said. “If you help a youth change some of their habits so that they’re successful, you are setting up a change that is positive to make them better off.”
When her daughter was in middle and high school, Susan’s home was always the safe place to go for her daughter’s classmates who were having a difficult time with family or friends. Susan was always a supportive, nonjudgmental parent willing to help out. After her daughter Amanda graduated and moved out, Susan wanted to continue to be that stable figure in young people’s lives. She became certified as a foster parent and took in teenaged foster youth.
According to a 2013 study by the Dave Thomas Foundation, more than half of people in the U.S. see children in foster care as juvenile delinquents. But Susan sees the youth she cares for as kids who are in foster care due to no fault of their own. She said many were exposed to abuse and neglect, or had bad influences in their personal lives.
“Whether it was family, poor role models or friends, these kids shouldn’t have to pay for past mistakes,” she said. “Their history and their path thus far don’t define their lives. They all have the opportunity to turn it around.”
Foster youth make up one of the largest groups to not graduate high school. As dropouts, they are likelier to commit crimes, be unemployed, or wind up homeless and on the streets. Less than nine percent will graduate college. Much of their instability in adolescence comes from a lack of consistent parenting and movement through multiple schools. Nationally, children placed into foster care have a 50 percent chance of being forced to change schools. These transitions mean adapting to new teachers, losing old friends and adjusting to different routines. It is not uncommon for high school–aged foster youth to attend more than three schools in a single year.
Susan sees the work that she and other foster parents do as an opportunity to provide guidance and support to young people who rarely have a single adult tied to their lives. Susan believes that her positive influence can be the difference in a youth making it to graduation.
Unfortunately, the city of Portland falls shorts when it comes to available foster parents and homes. According to a Status of Children Report by Children First Oregon, there are hundreds fewer foster homes than needed, with that number headed in the wrong direction.
Without enough foster homes, there are fewer options for youth who do enter foster care. Their ability to stay in the same school and neighborhood is affected by a lack of available homes to choose from. Fewer foster homes means too many youth are being placed with foster parents who often feel stretched and exhausted. When there are no foster homes available, youth are placed in group homes. In each of these situations, kids do not get the individual attention they need and deserve.
For Nathan Jarrett and Londo Ramos, it’s hard to imagine a more rewarding opportunity than being fostering parents. The two men have been foster parents for more than three years, and also work with teenaged youth. Both Nathan and Londo work full-time, and then come home each night to provide stability and support to a youth in foster care. While this can feel like hard, tiring work at times, Nathan said the rewards are worth it.
“These children are intelligent young adults,” Nathan said. “They need patience, respect and most of all, someone to listen to them and understand their needs. We learn something new each day.”
The two men remember buying a coat for a youth who was in their home during the holidays last year. They wanted to reward him for doing well while replacing an old jacket that was falling apart. What was an otherwise routine task for many families was transformative for this foster youth. Nathan said it was the first time in quite a while the child felt valued and appreciated.
“Being a foster parent is both the hardest and most rewarding thing you will ever do,” Nathan said. “Touching the lives of these young people, even if only for a day, will make such a lasting impact on their lives.”
Not everyone can be a foster parent or adopt a child, but everyone can understand the plight of the system and the needs of these children. Everyone can be a voice and advocate to ensure they have the same opportunities as every other child. In the coming school year, more youth, both children and teens, will enter foster care. They will need foster parents available to support them. They will need foster parents like Susan, Nathan and Londo.
Questions about foster care? Contact Boys & Girls Aid at 503.542.2312 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.