Perhaps the title of this blog should have been more inviting, like “Free Chocolate and Hugs.” That might have been a bit more appealing than a headline containing one of the scariest words in the English language – “teenagers.”
Ten years ago, when I started my journey within the foster care system, I decided to throw myself in head first. I became a house parent to 10 teenage boys in a group home. Many people were very vocal and told me how crazy I was. After years of working with teens in and out of group homes, foster homes, and becoming a kinship provider to my teenage nephew, I know those people are wrong. I wasn’t crazy. So many others are just uninformed.
According to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, only 58% of teens in foster care in the United States live with a family. That’s compared to 95% of children 12 and under who do. In North Carolina in 2020, the number of teens in foster care hovered around 3,600. Many of these young people float from placement to placement because of the lack of long-term homes available to teens.
I’m a firm believer that God designed the teenage years so that when they leave at 18 you aren’t that sad to see them go. Hormones, high school, drivers ed, and dating can make the idea of parenting teens terrifying. But many teens in foster care fight the added battle of the misconceptions and myths that surround them. Unfortunately, these stereotypes prevent families from opening their homes to teens.
Here are five reasons to consider fostering or adopting a teenager:
1. They are independent. Sometimes fiercely so, due to years of having to parent themselves and sometimes younger siblings. A lot of foster parents welcome the thought of heaps of diapers, long restless nights, and bathing children daily. But the beauty of teens is that there is no longer a need for that. They can do it all by themselves! They can shower, pick out outfits, and are fully potty-trained. The hardest part of parenting a teen in foster care is rewiring their schedule. BUT, Children 13-18 adapt to a schedule and boundaries pretty easily and (secretly) love the consistency that it brings to their life and bodies. Most of them will even sleep through the WHOLE night. And during school breaks, even half of the next day! Like most teenagers, our children in foster care love the respect you give them with independence.
2. You will enjoy many firsts with them. One of the daily joys of parenting young children is that you often experience many of their “firsts” in the early years of life. Children who enter foster care have missed out on a lot of memorable first experiences. Some “firsts” include going to the beach, visiting zoos and aquariums, and participating in extracurricular activities. If you think a toddler lights up in an aquarium, try taking a teen who’s never been before. During my first year as a house parent, I chaperoned a large group of teens to the Georgia aquarium. I found myself hanging at out the back with three teenage boys who were in awe. I will always remember the joy on their faces and the exclamations of amazement.
3. Teens will keep you young(ish)! Many babies, toddlers, and young children often have us feeling ragged. But teens give you the opportunity to learn how to be young again. You’ll get to learn all the new hip slang. They’ll let you know when your fashion is outdated (whether you want to know or not). And they’ll teach you all the new technology.
4. You don’t have to worry about saving for college. Some worry that when they take on a teenager, that they won’t have enough time to save up for
college tuition. There’s good news! There are many resources to cover the tuition payments for teens who have experienced foster care. Each story is a little different, but most teenagers can attend college without debt! And they are covered by medical insurance as well!
5. You can be the one person/family to change their life’s directive. Forty percent of children who enter foster care after the age of 13 will turn 18 and become an adult with no legal family or healthy connection. Two out of every five children will age out of foster care simply because they come into the system as a teenager. The statistics for young adults who age out are not positive. Many of these young adults become biological parents in the foster care system within years of once being a child in it. But, research and experience tell us that it takes just one caring adult to change a child’s life.
Teenagers are hard. There is a lot of data that says even children in healthy families are struggling. All teens suffer the influence of social media, peer pressure, mental health struggles, and the impact of isolation from COVID-19. Teens in foster care have the added trauma of their earlier lives.
Teens in foster care need people to stand up and decide to do the hard thing. They need someone to decide to show them unconditional love, sometimes for the first time. They need people to show them that they can fail and stumble and still be part of a family.
They need you.
To find out more about fostering and adoption, visit www.crossnore.org/foster-care-licensing