5 Things To Know About Fostering Teens

So I promised I would write a post about our new placement, and here it is!  We are fostering teens!  Yes, teens!  I remember when we started on this journey and we never considered taking older children.  I have heard it all about kids over the age of 5.  Most of it is not positive.  If you read my post about the 6 Insane Weeks, you can see how older kids can be a lot harder.  Yet I watched my heart grow again and allow these two new people into my life with ease.  I do not understand how God did it, but somehow we fell in love almost instantly.

We had it easy the past two placements, really.  But this one deals with one of the most horrifying things I can think of.  Sexual Abuse.  I will get a bit more into that another time.  Our teens; a 15-year-old boy (A) and 13-year-old girl (C) are from Central America.  Not yet citizens, but hopefully soon.  They have been living in the states for about 4 or 5 years and knew English from their native country.  They came to live with us 2 weeks before Christmas, a difficult time to go live with complete strangers.  Especially with having to meet our entire family, I can’t imagine how much they missed their own families and friends.  Just before we got the call, Jason and I considered requesting that our agency stop calling us for more placements… well, we didn’t get around to that and I have a hard time saying no… especially with such a heartbreaking story.

A is quiet, intelligent, mature, and respectful, as well as a bit moody.  C is a social butterfly, hysterical… you would instantly like her as soon as you met her.  On the night they came, our whole loud family of dogs and little kids came to greet them.  For obvious reasons they seemed quiet and reserved, yet still cautiously friendly.  We showed them their rooms and gave them a quick tour of the house.  We had called their caseworker in advance to get information about what they liked to eat and drink, so we already had pizza on the way.  While we waited, we gave them time to unpack and settle in.  Dinner was a bit awkward, but the conversation seemed to flow as lots of questions were asked all around.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we learned so much about them.  What family life was like in Central America (CA), why their family moved to this area, as well as some humbling details about their past.  We learned that they were accustomed to traveling to CA each summer for several months… unfortunately, even if we could afford it, they would have to miss this year.  It broke my heart to have to tell them that.  So we have a summer trip planned!  It’s not much, because we just don’t have the money to do something big, but I know it will be fun.  This will be their first summer staying in the states.

So here it is…

5 Things To Know About Fostering Teens

  1. Intimacy doesn’t come easy.  R & J were easy to get close to.  Little kids are easy to fall in love with, barring any attachment issues a lot of times foster children.  They trust and love easily, and it’s easy to love them back.  Add a few years and when little kids become teens, they won’t offer their love and trust so easily.  It’s up to you to earn it.  We have lived with our teens for over 2 months and while J and I do love them, I don’t know that they don’t see us in the same light.  Does that break my heart… I would be lying if I said no.  Teens may or may not appreciate all that you do.  They may not want to call you Mom and Dad.  They may never come to care about you at all.  So if you believe in God, you will start to get a really good idea of what that’s like.  To love and not receive love in return.  I do believe A & C like us, they seem happy here, they are getting their needs met, and when they need or want something they come to us.  Do they love us?  I am not certain.  I have no right to expect that from them, and honestly, I will never pressure them about it.  But that does not stop J and me from letting them know that they are loved and cared for.
  2. You have to be tough.  Having never had teens, I learned quickly that you have to be tough.  I treated A & C like adults (with certain limits) at the start, but I quickly realized that, due to their mental states, this was not going to work.  Even if a teen was previously a straight A student, remember they have gone through a traumatic experience and are likely experiencing depression.  So check their homework, put controls on the wifi and their phones if they have them, keep track of all their movements, set bedtimes and wake up times, make them stick to a schedule.  Stability and care are what they need, and it’s really all you can do.  They will appreciate it, no matter how many times they role their eyes or run into their rooms crying.
  3. Be a role model.  Having little background on the new teens that are currently in your care,  it is likely that they have never experienced a functional healthy adult like yourself.  You don’t have to be a saint, but you do have to demonstrate positive examples of being an adult.  If they came from an alcoholic home, they need to see that you can responsibly enjoy alcohol without getting out of control.  If they came from an abusive home, they need to see or experience a normal loving relationship.
  4. Listen and be that trustworthy adult!  There is a time to set your personal feelings about some things aside and really listen to what these teens are telling you.  Let them know they can trust you.  You will find out all about them and details that could really help improve their lives.  Then encourage them to share these details with their caseworker, CASA worker, and their attorney.  They may be reluctant or not fully understand how this could help their case.  You need to help guide them.  Let them know that it’s not their fault… many of their mistakes are a result of how they were raised (or not raised).  So be conscious of that.  If you believe in a higher power, think of your kids with the compassion and love of God.  They deserve it, and they likely haven’t had an adult do that for them up to this point.  So put on a straight face and let them know that you’re a trustworthy individual with their best interests at heart.
  5. Go the distance.  A is going to be 16 in June and will graduation school a year and a half early.  In two short years he will be 18… will he stay or will he go?  My heart races just thinking about it.  For the purposes of his interests, there are pros and cons to his potential adoption, but regardless of what we decide, we will be there for him like a real family.  The decision to adopt C or not is a bit more clear, she is too young to stay in the system.  Going the distance means you promise to be more than a foster parent.  You are the parent they never knew they wanted.  So many kids age out of the system and their futures look dim!  Here is an article from the Harvard Crimson regarding a study showing that kids who go through foster care suffer from PTSD at a rate twice as high as U.S. War Veterans.  This puts them at greater risk for homelessness, mental instability, unemployment, and lowers their chances of graduating or even attending college.  The point of all of this is that these teens really need you and your guidance!  It may not seem like it, and maybe they don’t appreciate it now, but they need a family… let that family be you!

As I write this article my heart continues to grow and love these kids like they are my own.  It is frustrating dealing with the legal proceedings and the details that I have no control over.  I want to fight for these kids, but I feel like I have one hand tied behind my back.  We are still at the beginning, and I feel that things will become harder, I am planning for that and preparing the kids as best I can.  However despite all of that, I know that this is worth it.  That’s something that keeps me going.