5 questions for foster care expert Paul Davis

Foster kids at a Diamondbacks game. Photos courtesy of Braithwaite Communications.

As director of foster care services at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Arizona, Paul Davis is responsible for the organization’s foster care and respite operations in Pima and Maricopa Counties. Devereux is part of a national foundation serving about 5,500 individuals and families in Arizona, providing residential treatment, day school, outpatient services, respite care, adult foster care, child foster care and prevention programs.

Davis has worked in settings ranging from shelters and group homes to residential treatment centers and psychiatric hospitals. He also championed Devereux’s achievement as the first foster care/adoption agency in Arizona to obtain the Human Rights Campaign’s “All Children – All Families” Seal of Recognition as an agency leader in supporting and serving LGBT families. Recently, Davis talked with RAK about finding placements for teens in foster care.

What are some of the special challenges in finding placement for teens in foster care? We try to let potential foster families know early on that if kids are coming into foster care, it means they’ve been subjected to abuse or neglect in some shape or form. No matter what the child’s age, it’s impossible not to have some emotional and behavioral challenges that come with that. Just because you have the “cute and cuddly” factor with babies and toddlers doesn’t mean there aren’t emotional and behavioral problems to deal with.

Teens in foster care sometimes get a bad rap. The teenage years are pretty tough, even for kids who are not in foster care. At this age, you have to deal with some crazy issues. For teens in foster care, it’s just another layer on top of that. But we have some darn amazing kids out there who find themselves in foster care through no fault of their own. They have the potential to become amazing adults if people would step up to help them.

RELATED: Teens in foster care: Making the world a better place

What are some of the problems that result from teens not getting the support they need? When you think about typical teens, imagine the benefits they receive from the support of their families. They are encouraged and guided in education, living skills, emotional needs and physical security. Even after they turn 18 and leave home, they know they have a home to come home to. Teens in foster care might not have any of that, and if they do receive some support, it often does not follow them once they leave the foster care community.

Homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues are often the result. If we can provide more support for these vulnerable teens, we’re going to have fewer problems in our communities in the long run.

What would you like families considering fostering a teenager to know? Most foster parents say they get more out of fostering kids than they ever dreamed. There’s a lot of reward that comes from taking a young teen who’s really scared and confused and pulling out those great attributes that will make him or her into a successful adult. That’s food for the soul. It’s challenging, but what in life is worth doing that doesn’t have its struggles? Usually, the larger the challenge, the larger the reward. It’s also important to know that Devereux is there to help you to meet that challenge. With 24/7 consultation, crisis support, respite care, etc., we are there to help every step of the way.

What example stands out in your mind? I think back on a former foster family as one of the greatest examples of what’s possible. On Mother’s Day, [the foster mom] had a wall in her home filled with cards. They had come from all over the country. They were from kids they had fostered years ago. These kids, now grown, truly think of these folks as their family. And they are so grateful. Just think how many lives these people have affected.

What are the next steps for a family or individual interested in fostering a teenager? Learn all you can. Reach out to other families who foster. Talk to families who have raised teens. Find out what that’s like. Visit devereux.org and attend one of our training sessions. If you decide to foster, Devereux can be your one-stop shop, from pre-service training to the licensure process to guiding you through that first placement and beyond.

RELATED: Ways we all can help kids in foster care

Learn more

Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health’s Foster Care office is located at 2025 N. Third St., Suite 300, Phoenix. 602-283-7100 or azmaricopafostercare@devereux.org