PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The demand for teenage foster care has been on the rise in Southwest Florida, especially since the pandemic. Leaders in foster care services say the number of teenagers without a stable home has nearly doubled.
In response to this issue, Crossroads Hope Academy in Punta Gorda is striving to find suitable placements for these young individuals before they "age out."
"I was just a bad kid, like getting suspended from school and everything. My grandma couldn't keep up with it, so she sent me to a shelter," said Alex, a 13-year-old resident of Crossroads Hope Academy.
Out of the 48 teenage boys residing at Crossroads, half are living on this particular site. According to John Davidson, the Executive Director of Crossroads Hope Academy, teenage boys are the most challenging demographic to place in foster care.
"We average 97 referrals a month, and out of that, we take four or five," Davidson mentioned, indicating the pressing demand.
Davidson further explained that the monthly referrals have almost doubled from the 45 they received in 2019.
Many of the teenagers have experienced multiple group homes.
"This is probably my third one, for a group home," shared 13-year-old Alex Carroll.
Anthony, another teenager at Crossroads, is on his second group home.
"Behaviorally, they've got a lot of trauma issues, even from being shuffled around so much," added Davidson, shedding light on the challenges these teenagers face.
As these teenagers approach the age of 18, adulthood and responsibilities come fast. Despite their past, these young people are still dreaming big.
"After high school, I'm going to try to get an offer to college and try to make it to the NFL," expressed Hezekiah, 12.
Gavin, 15, aspires to be a lawyer, "A lawyer, because before my mom had me that's what she was doing, so I want to stand up for certain people's rights."
Looking ahead, Crossroads Hope Academy says it's committed to providing ongoing support for their boys beyond their 18th birthday. Davidson highlighted plans to secure housing and staff to ensure a smooth transition into adulthood for these teenagers.
"We want to ensure that these kids have a stable support system even after they turn 18," Davidson explained. "By offering housing and continued mentorship, we hope to improve their chances of success in the challenging transition to adulthood."
Davidson mentioned their success in defying national statistics related to homelessness and education for foster youth. He also stressed the importance of community involvement through volunteering, emphasizing the power of healing through relationships.