The America so many children know is made up of at least one parent in a nurturing home environment. Yet for foster teens, it’s a different America.
Only 58% of foster teens live with a family, compared with 95% of kids 12 and under, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a ranch not only fosters teen girls but makes it a mission to set them up for success. The girls are taught life skills. They also get help finding a job.
Despite the access to resources, many of the girls still say they feel like something is missing.
“I really want to be adopted, and I hope that someone will just look at the news and just— pick me,” Angel said.
Angel is one of several girls staying at the Tulsa Girls Home.
Brittany Stokes, who runs the home, says she's that nearly all foster children under the age of 13 are placed with families. Among teenagers, it’s barely half.
“There is this stigma that they don’t want forever homes, or they are just difficult. They might go and get pregnant. They may, you know, cause or bring their trauma into a family,” Stokes said.
Angel is another girl staying at the home. She said it became her home after her mother became violent.
"My mother stabbed me 71 times—my arms, my legs, my face," she said.
Stokes started her group home to be warm, comforting and focused on the children who need it.
But the national consensus on group homes is that, at their worst, they cause harm. At their best, they’re a shortcut and no substitute for family.
In 2018 the bipartisan Family First Act said the government can only reimburse the costs of a child in group care for two weeks. It aims to get states to focus harder on finding families.
“I guess I’m just too old to— I mean, like, I’m still young, but like, I’m too old to go and figure out, like, ‘Is this foster family worth it? Do I want them to adopt me?’” Poppy said.
“I felt like it was my fault that I got hurt,” Angel said.
And foster teens nationwide are at pivotal points. They’re becoming adults. The same signals they receive in the system make them especially vulnerable when they age out.
“Domestic violence relationships, human sex trafficking,” Stokes said. “We're dropping them into a very harmful environment. We’re teaching our kids to detach from love, to detach from purpose, to detach from a future of anything more.”
“I’m going to be 18 soon. So, I’ll probably just stay here,” Poppy said.