SOUTH OGDEN -- Tears and joy mixed Saturday as a panel of foster-parent advocates discussed their experiences of taking in teenagers or of being taken in themselves.
"I've seen Matthew come into my home not really trusting in other people, and now he's willing to give his biological mom a second chance," said Hooper resident Tara Adamson, one of several foster mothers who spoke.
The meeting at Holy Family Catholic Church was one in a series throughout the Wasatch Front designed to encourage more families to foster teenagers.
Heidi Little, a Utah Foster Care Foundation resource family consultant for the Northern Utah region, said 50 to 100 homes in this area are available to foster teenagers.
But that is not enough.
"We don't want to have higher-level care just because we don't have homes for them," Little said, noting that group homes and other, more expensive facilities often are needed when foster families aren't available for teens.
"We definitely need resources," said Sarah Pomeroy, coordinator of a Utah Foster Care Foundation program that helps teens make the transition to living as adults. "We don't have enough homes to take in these kids."
And foster families are preferred over other options, said the foster care advocates.
"Permanency for these kids is so incredibly important," Little said. "Without permanency, they just sit in limbo."
Becky Swanson, the reigning Mrs. Davis County, started her life sleeping on floors and not having enough to eat. When she was between the ages of 3 and 6, she and three siblings lived in 21 foster homes.
But then, she said, a family took them in and raised her to adulthood.
"I grew from that," she said. "I learned to always be better and better. ... It's all putting it in your mindset to want to be better than you are today."
One teen told of how surprised he was to land in the foster care system and how some people judged him poorly once he did.
He said he came from a loving and supportive family, but then a series of what he calls "unfortunate events," including the death of his father, led him to need a foster home.
Another teen told of living out of her locker at school before she found a family with whom to live. Her home life had become unbearable, so she had leaned on friends to put her up for awhile before a family offered to foster her.
A third teen told of waiting for six months to be placed in a foster home because he needed to be placed with the baby sister he had helped care for while waiting for a home.
All of the teens said their lives improved once they had a place to belong -- a foster home.
Those involved also talked about how hard it can be to return foster children to their families once the kids' biological parents have addressed their problems.
"I don't think it's going to be easy at all, but hopefully, it will be worth it because we're giving her a strong foundation to go forward with," Kayla McDaniel, of South Ogden, said of her foster daughter.
"The comfort was knowing that was the best thing for these children," Maryanne McFarland, a foster and adoptive family recruiter for the Northern Utah region, said of her 18 years of returning children to their families.
"It wasn't about us. I'm an adult. I can go down that road if it means helping a child."
But McFarland said, in the long run, there more often is joy as the families of the children she has taken in bond with her and turn to her for support.
"We become part of their families as well, and they become part of our families," she said. "What better thing can you do with your life than to become part of more families?"
McFarland said her organization is always looking for ways to get information out to the public. Group representatives give presentations at people's offices or other gatherings whenever they are invited.
More information is available by calling the Ogden office at 801-392-1114.