| By Nur Kausar
Seventeen-year-old Mariah received the chance to be a normal teenager thanks to her foster parents.
The foster teen has rotated among different families in Washington County, and as Mariah broaches adulthood, the importance of stability and normalcy are extremely important to her most recent foster mother, Melissa Barney.
“There’s a lot of kids out there who need stable homes and loving parents,” Barney said Monday at her Hurricane home, a couple of hours before receiving the award for Utah Foster Mom of the Year for the southwest region. “It’s not about the money. We just have a lot of love to give.”
Barney and her husband, Derek, already had fostered two infants and were looking for another young child to help temporarily when the Utah Foster Care Foundation asked if they would consider Mariah, then 16.
“They took her in and had a wonderful experience,” UFCF Southwest Region representative Debbie Hofhines said about why Barney received the award. “They stretched beyond their comfort zone and offered her a stable home environment.”
“They love her and treat her like their sister,” Barney said about her younger children.
The experience has been different, Barney said, but has not been as scary as many potential foster families may think. “I had never enrolled a high schooler,” she laughed, but said the change went smoothly, and Mariah has flourished with friends, dance classes and lining up a summer job. “We told her she’s more than welcome (to drive) if she wants to get a job, and if she pays for half, we’ll cover the other half.”
Mariah has become close with her foster parents and has even planned her future, wanting to become a masseuse, Barney said.
It’s not always easy to provide that kind of support to teenagers in the foster care system, said Hofhines.
“A lot of parents are intimidated by that because (teens) do come with more baggage,” Hofhines said. “Face it, with babies, you think you’re getting less problems.”
UFCF does not hide this fact, she added. Parents take classes and receive information on how foster teens, which make up almost half the 272 children in state care, have different concerns from other teens: They worry about where they will live next month, if their siblings are OK, whether their biological parents are in counseling and if they will be in the same school next year.
For some, according to UFCF, these issues become so overwhelming that foster teens don’t care about school or friends. However, Barney said, her family has been successful in making Mariah feel at home.
“She said she wants to stay with us forever,” Barney said laughing. “We said as long as she wanted to stay, she was welcome. I would say patience and giving (foster teens) unconditional love is what they need. They eat it up. It’s something they haven’t had.”
As for the award, Barney said she hesitated even returning a call to The Spectrum when she was asked for an interview because she “is just a mom. That’s it.”
“I don’t feel different than any other mom. I just do my best. It’s hard to be a mom.”
UFCS is celebrating National Foster Care Month this month and conducted a free night at the Washington City Community Center for local foster families.
It also will provide information at the What Women Want Expo this Friday and Saturday at the Dixie Center and a Foster Dad of the Year competition next month as well. For information, visit www. utahfostercare. org.