Four Oaks needs foster families for teens, sibling groups

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Four Oaks Family Connections say more than 2,00 kids in eastern Iowa needed foster care last year, with only a little more than 1,000 foster families to take them in.

Tracy Kiernan's home is always set up and ready for a foster child on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.

Christa Hefel, Recruiting and Engagement Leader with Four Oaks, says they particularly need families that will take in kids 13 and older and sibling groups.

Foster parent Tracy Kiernan is a mother of four, but she knows that number can change on any given day.

"We have part of a sibling group. We have a two year old and an 11 year old," Kiernan said.

With two foster kids in her home, that brings the number to six.

Kiernan's taken in 18 kids since 2012.

She said, "we've been blessed with a big house and we've got big hearts and we want to help kids."

She says she sees so much good, like when a child goes back to their parents or finds a new permanent home.

"When we have children in our home and we see the parents work so very hard and do what they need to do to get their children, that’s very rewarding," Kiernan said. "We’ve had a few kiddos here as well that we care for until the parents aren’t showing what they need to show, so then they go to be adopted by a forever family," she added.

However, with all of the good comes struggle.

Her current foster children are miles away from their two other siblings.

"Their siblings that are eight and 10 are an hour and a half away because there was not a home for them to be in the area," Kiernan explained.

This is why she wants more people to sign up for foster parenting.

"Having more foster homes in the Dubuque area, especially for teenage and middle school age children, would benefit this family that we have right now tremendously because then they could at least be in the same county," she said.

Hefel says Four Oaks had 1,076 foster families in 2017. However, they had twice as many foster children, 2,188, than potential foster homes.

Of the foster families, only 21% are willing to take in teenagers, kids 13 years and older.

Hefel says it's difficult to find a family that will take in teenagers.

She believes myths about foster kids having limits is a big reason why.

"A lot of people think that teenagers, foster teenagers, can’t get their license and they can’t work a job and they can’t do all the sports and the things regular teenagers get to do that aren’t in foster care, and those honestly are false," Hefel explained.

Hefel says people who want to be foster parents but doubt they would qualify should look into it anyways. She says the guidelines aren't very limiting.

She said, "you can be single, divorced, married, you can be a same sex couple, you can be a heterosexual couple. Anybody can."

As for Kiernan, she's currently licensed to have two kids at a time. She hasn't ever taken in a teenager, but believes it's something she could do one day.

She said, "I have three teenagers and a 'tweenager' myself so maybe once they’re a little older then that would be definitely a possibility."

She gives this advice to anyone considering foster care.

"Don’t be scared of the kids, don’t be scared of opening your home to a child that’s not yours and don’t be scared of their parents. They’re all people that are trying," she said. "It’s more rewarding than it is struggle.”

If you'd like more information about foster parenting,

 click here.