Many children in foster care have brothers or sisters, are older or have needs that will take patience and understanding. We especially need families open to fostering siblings and teens, as well as African American and Latino families.

Foster care can be challenging, but our families often say it’s one of the most rewarding things they have ever done. Learn how you can help kids in our most urgent areas of need.

Keep siblings together

Most children in foster care have at least one brother or sister. Some may have siblings placed in other foster homes. Being separated from siblings could mean losing the only significant relationship that child has ever known, but there isn’t always a home available who can keep them together.

Madison, age 9, Erika, age 4 and Whitney, age 2, were placed in their foster home after their mom physically abused Erika. Madison and Erika have the same father. Whitney’s father is involved with gangs, and the girls have seen drug deals and gang activities. Though the girls are now placed together, social workers are considering placing Madison separately—her insistence on parenting her younger sisters is causing conflict in the foster home. Placing Madison in another home would help her let go of this role, but it could also be emotionally detrimental to her sisters. Madison and Erika have supervised visits with their mom and dad. Whitney has separate supervised visits with each of her parents.

As you can see from this story, fostering a sibling group takes flexibility and teamwork. You may need to balance several school, daycare, appointments and visit schedules or coordinate with another foster home on helping brothers and sisters stay in contact.  Relationships between siblings can be affected by their early experiences.

Believe in a teen

Teens in foster care are just like teens you know. They worry about fitting in. They obsess about clothes or cell phones. Unfortunately, teens in foster care also have to worry about where they will live next month, where their younger siblings are and how to make friends in a strange new school. Teens in foster care need the encouragement and trust of a family who will love them and provide a structured home to help them on a positive path to success.

Allison, 16, has been in foster care several times because of neglect. Her mom has problems with drugs and alcohol. This is the second time Allison has been in her current foster home. Allison has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and a heart murmur. She is several grades behind in school and has a reading disorder. Her closest friends are from her foster parent’s church and are two years younger than she is. Allison is quiet and likes to stay in her room by herself. She has a big smile when she’s happy. Her favorite day is Sundays when her mom eats dinner with her foster family.

As you can see in Allison’s story, supporting a teen in their academics or life skills is important. Children in foster care may be behind in school from moving so much. A teen may also need help learning how to cook, budget, write a check or how to apply for college. For this age group, you should be also be understanding of teens who have questions about dating, relationships or sexuality.

Share your culture

Children in foster care have moved away from home, family, friends, school and favorite places. Keeping ties to their culture, such as holidays, traditions or favorite foods can help them feel safe and stable. Iowa has a large need for more African-American and Latino families to become foster or adoptive parents.

Keisha, 12, is an African-American girl placed in a white foster home. Keisha’s mom is in rehab for drugs and alcohol, and her father is in prison. Both of Keisha’s parents say they love her. Keisha’s foster parents live in a predominantly white, working-class neighborhood. The school district is not as diverse as Keisha’s previous school. She is the only African-American player on her middle school basketball team. Keisha misses how her mom used to do her hair, though her foster mom is trying hard to learn how.

As you can see in Keisha’s story, moving into a new neighborhood can be hard for a child. If you are fostering a child whose ethnicity is different from your own, you may need to learn about hair and skin care needs and his or her family traditions.

Nurture an infant or toddler

Abuse or neglect can have a significant impact on a young child’s brain development and readiness for school. Infants feel grief and loss—they could miss a parent’s smell, voice, smile or touch and that affects activity, appetite and sleep.

Kenny, age one, was exposed to meth in utero and was placed in foster care because of neglect. His mom, a 27-year-old single parent, struggles with addiction. She has not been able to keep stable housing, employment or health care. DHS became involved after Kenny’s mom left him alone in their apartment. She could not be located when the police were called because of Kenny’s crying. Kenny shows little interest in things or people. He is just now learning to stand, cries often and can’t be easily comforted with touch or food.

As you can see in Kenny’s story, it isn’t always easy to foster an infant or toddler. You’ll need to be prepared for diapers, bottles and sleepless nights, as well as medical check-ups and possible developmental delays. You may have to pay up front for needs such as formula, a car seat and daycare until you receive your reimbursement.

Support an LGBT youth

Many LGBT youth who enter foster care are placed in care for reasons unrelated to their sexual identity, while others do experience conflicts related to sexual orientation or gender identity that result in being removed from their home. Entering foster care is hard enough in itself, but these youth may also be facing questions of acceptance from their family, peers and community.

Brandon, 15, has always had a difficult home life, but things became tougher when he told his parents he was gay. One day he had a physical fight with his dad and ended up in juvenile court. After ongoing ridicule and abuse from family members, he was eventually placed in foster care. Brandon is on target academically, but has had trouble making friends at his school due to bullying from his peers. Brandon feels safe in his new foster home where his foster parents are kind and supportive, but he struggles with ongoing depression.

As you can see in Brandon’s story, Brandon has not always felt safe or supported. A child or teen in this situation would benefit from a foster family who can create a respectful, inclusive environment in their home, who believes in treating every person equally and fairly and who encourages others to accept and value the differences in each person. You will need to be understanding of teens who have questions about dating, relationships or sexuality.