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Report: Brain Science Shows How to Help Teens in Foster Care

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A new report recommends encouraging teens in foster care to achieve milestones such as getting a job and learning to drive. (Darnok/Morguefile)
A new report recommends encouraging teens in foster care to achieve milestones such as getting a job and learning to drive. (Darnok/Morguefile)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
January 11, 2018

PHOENIX — A new report says teenagers in foster care need as much normalcy and stability as possible - because their brains are still developing into their twenties.

Researchers from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative looked at the science and found that adolescents' brains are still malleable, so with positive reinforcement, they have a unique ability to recover from personal trauma. Alexandra Lohrbach, a program associate with the initiative, said connecting teens with a loving family is key.

"It's really important to know that during this period of development, adolescent brains are constantly wiring connections and being shaped by their environment and the people in it,” Lohrback said. "So, that means that each and every interaction has a profound influence on adolescence. Relationships go so far."

The report recommended that teens have some kind of stable home life so they can achieve the milestones that allow a sense of independence and accomplishment - such as getting a job, learning to drive and forming long-term friendships.

Torrie Taj, CEO of Child Crisis Arizona, said they strive to find "forever" families for as many teens as possible, recognizing that group homes aren't an ideal solution.

"These children miss out on the love and compassion that adults have,” Taj said. "We really need to find how these children can feel loved and connected with long-term relationships."

The report also cautioned that normal adolescent behavior such as risk-taking and acting on impulse should not be treated as a mental health disorder, but rather understood as developmentally appropriate.

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