Skip to main content

Why It’s Important to Foster Youth on Probation

Providing a safe home and compassionate care to young people on probation is not only an important need but can be an extremely impactful and life-changing experience both for the child and the foster family. KVC Nebraska is proud to partner with Nebraska Juvenile Probation to help place youth on probation with caring foster parents. 

Becoming a caregiver for a young person on probation may seem overwhelming. However, with an understanding of what probation is and why these young people need loving homes, it’s easy to see why becoming a foster parent for these youth is critical. Let’s explore some of the common reasons young people experience probation, and what it’s really like to care for youth on probation.

What You Need to Know About Youth Probation

Youth are commonly placed on probation after juvenile delinquency court, and some are even placed on probation without an official court ruling. While probation looks different for every teen, young people on pro­ba­tion typically need to adhere to conditions including curfews, random searches, regular check-ins with their probation officer, meetings and/or community service. It’s important to know that probation offers young people the chance to live in their community while still getting access to helpful resources and support. 

In 2019, an average of 265,000 young people were placed in pro­ba­tion by juve­nile courts in the United States. A majority of these youth are between 14 and 17 years of age, though some may be as young as 10 years old. Youth of color are overrepresented when it comes to probation cases, particularly Black and Indigenous youth. Black youth are placed on probation three times more and American Indian youth two and a half times more than white youth. 

Many factors contribute to this disparity, experts say, because even as the number of incarcerated youth has declined, disparities impacting young people of color have continued to grow. These elements may include systematic and structural racism, socioeconomic status, a disproportionate police presence in their communities and discrimination as a whole.

In a comprehensive national study of the problem of overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile and criminal justice system, overrepresentation was found at every point and the disadvantages worsened as they went through the system. Statistically, young people of color are more likely than their white peers who commit comparable crimes to be referred to juvenile court, be detained, face trials as adults and go to jail.

A wide variety of issues result in children and teens being on probation — and many of these offenses would not be considered illegal if committed by an adult. These issues may include tru­an­cy, underage drink­ing or run­ning away from home. Other common probation offenses are disorderly conduct, vandalism and trespassing. Youth placed on probation rarely commit violent crimes. Less than 10% of youth involved with the juvenile justice system nationwide were charged with a violent crime in 2019. 

What leads young people to this situation? Often, there can be a correlation with an unstable home life, a lack of supervision, traumatic experiences, mental health challenges or substance misuse. To get these children and teens back on track, many need a safe, welcoming space to call home while finishing the terms of probation.

Why Youth in Probation Need Foster Care

Theresa Goley, MA, LMHP

“There is a misunderstanding about why youth are on probation,” explains KVC Director of Permanency Theresa Goley, MA, LMHP. “People hear ‘probation’ and think of more violent, dangerous offenses. But oftentimes, kids on probation actually have fewer ongoing challenges. Many of these youth are also part of the child welfare system for reasons unrelated to their probation status.”

If youth on probation aren’t able to find a home in foster care, they are often required to move to a higher level of care that may be unnecessary for their situation, such as group home detention or more intense treatment. “There’s a lot of research that shows that kids who are over-served do not have good outcomes,” Theresa shares.

Foster parents make a lasting impact on these young people during a tumultuous time in their lives. Simply having another adult who they can count on and trust to take care of them can make a tremendous difference. If appropriate, foster parents can build and maintain relationships with the youth’s biological parents to share parenting responsibilities and moments. This positively impacts the youth, their behavior, and their relationships so they’re able to maintain a vital family connection. As foster parents help biological parents through this process — and provide the structure and support crucial for young people — a lasting, life-changing effect is possible!

What do prospective foster parents need to know before actively supporting youth on probation?

“Be open and willing to educate yourself on what probation really means and what behaviors could come with it,” Theresa says. “I highly recommend talking with other foster families who have supported youth with these kinds of behaviors to get their perspective.” 

Talking with someone who has cared for a young person on probation can help future foster parents understand the rewarding aspects of this unique circumstance. As you complete the foster parent training class with KVC, reach out to your trainers, licensing specialists, and other KVC team members to find an opportunity to speak with a foster parent caring for a youth involved with probation. Many caretakers are able to make a powerful impact, help youth advance in their education, and pave the way toward a brighter future. 

What It’s Like Fostering Higher Needs Youth

Youth with higher needs, like those on probation, need homes with compassionate, understanding caregivers. One KVC foster mom explains that she takes in higher-needs teens because while many people may be averse to the challenge, these young people are truly amazing.

Foster parents enjoy caring for teens because they are able to take care of themselves in many ways. Fostering a teen involves fewer physical demands, unlike babies or toddlers who require hands-on support with everything. And fostering teens doesn’t require around-the-clock care, as young people can spend more time independently, at school and with peers. While younger ones need constant help, older children have more coachable moments as they learn important life skills.   

One KVC foster dad shares that while it may initially seem overwhelming to foster a teen with higher needs, those fears disappear. Having countless rewarding experiences with these children and teens has made this foster dad feel like a better friend and a better teacher to all those around him. 

When fostering a young person on probation, you get the chance to witness many positive life changes. With your help, these youth can go from the juvenile court system to stable and thriving. Become a foster parent and be the force that helps a child or teen go from experiencing rough times to high school graduation and beyond.

Worried about going it alone, or not knowing how to handle a specific situation with a teen in foster care? Foster caregivers have KVC’s full support every step of the way. In addition to extensive training, KVC employees are available 24/7 to offer support, advice, and crisis intervention to foster parents who open their hearts and homes to youth in need.

There is a substantial need for foster parents who will welcome teenagers into their homes. You don’t need to be an expert at parenting teens or youth with high needs to provide the support and comfort these children need. KVC Nebraska is here to offer expertise and community to uplift foster parents through this journey. These resources make all the difference as you jump into something new and exciting. 

Become a Foster Parent with KVC Nebraska

When youth cannot safely remain with their biological caregivers, foster parents provide a temporary, safe environment for youth and their families to solve challenges and work toward reunification. Foster care provides a family setting that can be a vital alternative to congregate or higher-level care. You can be a part of this positive solution.

Learn more about becoming a foster parent with KVC Nebraska today. Applying to become a foster parent is the simple first step to learning more and discovering what taking care of a child in need would be like. If you feel the call to support youth in foster care, KVC Nebraska is thrilled to be your partner in this life-changing journey. Your impact can start today.