More than 400,000 children are currently in America's foster care system. Many have been stuck in the system for years and may never know a loving, permanent home.
But hope is eternal -- and it is rising for some of these kids.
When Allen Jenkins was only 7 years old, his life took a hard turn.
"I was staying with my mother and there were a lot of times that she wasn't there," he told CBN News.
When his mother was later arrested and was sent to prison, Allen and his four brothers and sisters went through some major life changes.
"I was placed into a foster home. It was rough, rough," he explained.
That foster home placement was the first of many different homes over the years for Jenkins. Some of the places he was sent to live were unimaginable.
"One of the places I was at was a psychiatric ward. I had to be placed there, not because I deserved to be there, but because there was no other place for me to go," he said.
Being separated from his siblings left Jenkins feeling alone and angry.
"I looked at where I was at and I felt nobody else could feel what I was feeling. I used to cry all the time in the cell, and cry and cry and cry. I would pray and ask God to help me and my family," he recalled. "He told me that He was going to help me."
Adopting Older Kids
That help came as Jenkins prepared for life out on his own.
"Towards the end of my foster care years, I was actually placed into a home that was totally different from the experiences that I previously had. The foster parent there was very supportive, loving, kind -- things I didn't think existed."
Alan and Dana Steele of Chesapeake, Va., adopted 10 children from foster care. They were already raising three biological kids from Alan's first marriage.
"A lot of parents would like to adopt a cute one or two-year-old -- a white child. Someone that looks great in a picture," Alan Steele told CBN News.
"But the ones that are a lot older, that have different issues, that have been in the system for a long time -- there's not a lot of people as interested in entertaining the idea of adopting them," he said.
Most of the kids had suffered serious physical or emotional problems and were considered long shots for adoption.
"Each of our children have special needs in different ways," Dana Steele
explained. "The younger ones for the most part either have been drug-exposed or severely abused."
"Our son Jake is seven. He came to us at three months. He had 36 broken bones and he had been shaken twice," she said.
Eighteen-year-old Keyunda joined the Steele family in August. She had moved in and out of foster homes and shelters since she was 14.
"A lot of kids were there, especially my roommates that I had. You're sleeping beside someone who wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and it makes you want to cry," she described of her experience.
The chance of older foster kids finding a family are tough. Keyunda knows she is fortunate to be adopted at 18, but admitted the opportunity she has with the Steeles won't be easy.
"I felt like I couldn't trust anyone anymore, because every time I would go into a home, it would either be, I don't have the time or they'll relinquish custody just for the the littlest reason," she said of her struggle.
"It became hard to trust anyone, because you didn't know who was going to let you down," she said.
Kids with trust issues are familiar to the workers with United Methodist Family Services. The organization specializes in what's known as "Treatment Foster Care," which provides specially trained families for children with special needs.
"What we're seeing right now are teens who are coming into the foster care system. We talk about behaviors. We talk about what you do when these behaviors come up," Vernita Watson, a staff member, explained. "We get down to the core issues of those things -- what does it actually look like in a child."
"So it's very intense training because they need to know what they're going to deal with when a child is placed in their home. It's not going to be peaches and cream," she added.
Dana Steele said she relies on God's grace when the going gets rough.
"Nobody's a super parent. Nobody's really great at this. But you do what God calls you to do -- lumps and all, mistakes and all," she said.
Cheryl Simmons of United Methodist Family Services said support from the faith community is vital.
"We have to pray for the children that God would bring those people to actually embrace these children and have them be part of their family," Simmons said.
Statistics show that children who grow out of foster care are more likely than than their peers to end up incarcerated, homeless, on drugs, or worse.
United Methodist Family Services is trying to change that statistic.
Melissa Peele coordinates the agency, "Project LIFE." The project, which has been in operation for about one year, serves as a support system for foster care youth who are about to age out of the system.
"Making sure that when they leave they're not just leaving with their birth certificate and a social security card and a job or have some funds in their pocket. We want to make sure they are successful," Peele explained.
Today, Allen Jenkins is considered a success. He attended college and now teaches youth.
He said that while therapy helped him overcome the pain of his past, it was his faith in God that has played a much bigger role in helping him to become the man he is today.
"When I met Jesus and he came into my life, that was the thing that showed me there was light -- that I could be something different. Ever since then, I just wanted to walk in that light."
Keyunda Steele is studying to become a nurse. She said being in a permanent home has given her the joy she has always dreamed about.
"It's something that a kid like me always wanted that they finally got. It's like that Christmas gift that you always wanted," she explained. "You finally got it -- like yes!"
- Alan Steele
Alan and Dana Steele of Chesapeake, Va., adopted 10 children from foster care. Alan talks about what its like offering these children a 'forever' home.
- Dana Steele
Alan and Dana Steele of Chesapeake, Va., adopted 10 children from foster care. Dana talks to CBN News about what its like working with the kids and with the foster care system.
- Keyunda Steele
Keyunda was adopted by the Steele's after four years of being bounced around to eight different homes. She tells CBN News her story.
- Allen Jenkins
Allen Jenkins entered foster care at 7 years old after his mother was arrested. He talks about his experiences and what made the difference in his life to help him succeed.