In a perfect world, all parents would raise their children lovingly and capably all the time. In reality, of course, things don’t always work out that neatly. Which is why adoption and foster care systems help keep children from falling through the cracks.
Here’s a related reality: Many prospective foster and adoptive families prefer taking in or adopting younger children. While there’s nothing wrong with that preference, it places added stress on older youth in foster care or those waiting to be adopted, as they anticipate aging out of the system and having to fend for themselves.
That stress has consequences. Young adults who age out of foster care without being adopted face greater risks of homelessness, early parenthood, educational underachievement, unemployment, and other adverse adult outcomes. Getting placed in a forever home, or at least with a loving foster family, breaks this cycle and starts the healing process.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. To be a teenager in the foster care system is to feel like the last kid to be chosen for a pickup basketball game. How would these teenagers change their lives? What’s on their wish list? What do they want?
- For you to know they did nothing to cause their circumstances. Many of the reasons why children enter the foster care system, at any age, include abandonment, death, illness, incarceration—none of which are the fault of the children themselves. Yet many families assume incorrectly that foster teens are somehow responsible for the circumstances.
- For you to remember they’re just a teenager and face the same struggles, fears, needs and confusion as any other teenager. Teens in foster care are no more “high-maintenance” than any other teenager.
- Consistent role models who exhibit traits they can learn from and emulate, so they can grow into the best adults they can be.
- To belong and to feel accepted, welcomed and loved without condition. They don’t want to feel like intruders, outsiders or guests.
- To blend in and to be treated according to the same rules as any other child their age. They want the same amount of praise, discipline and love as other children in the home—no more and no less.
- Foster parents who chose them out of love and compassion. Not for ego-related, financial or other reasons.
- Foster parents who listen and take them seriously and who treat them as respectfully as any other child, neither overindulgently nor as a second-class short-timer.
- Stability in their young lives. They’ve already had to adjust to so much uncertainty. They just want the luxury of not having to struggle just to survive.
- They want reasons to believe they can blossom—deserve to blossom—despite the trauma that got them into foster care in the first place. They hope their struggles will be temporary and their lives can be just as productive and fulfilling as any other adult.
- Foster parents who can help them plan beyond the short-term. Parents who can steer them toward education, employment and other opportunities they might need.
If you’re thinking about fostering or permanently adopting a child, if the love in your family cries out to be shared with a young person who desperately needs it, consider a teenager.
The experience is different from caring for a younger child, but it’s every bit as rewarding. You might miss the child’s first words, first steps, first baby tooth, but with luck you’ll get to celebrate prom night, or their driver’s license or first job. Perhaps soon there’ll be a responsible young adult, living independently and productively with you, to thank for the way their life turned out.
For more on fostering or adopting a teen, visit fssjax.org.
SOURCES (Do not include, just listing them for reference)