Congratulations, you’re a foster parent. We’ve given you this young teen to foster and you’re life will never be the same again. You may be miserable, but this teen is even more miserable. Are you up to the challenge?
The teen you’ve been given to foster looks so sweet and innocent, how could anyone ever have turned that child out of their home? It’s important for you to remember that when teens are in the foster care system, they are there for a myriad of reasons. These reasons can range from something as simple as an illness in a parent, to abuse, addiction, alcoholism, no supervision or the teens inability to get along with a sibling or step sibling. This can create a lot of anger and resentments on the teens part.
Complicating this fact is that teens often feel that they’re already all grown up and capable of making their own decisions. Often those decisions have serious ramifications and dire consequences. Helping a teen navigate these waters is no easy task. It’s definitely not for the fainthearted.
Expecting your experience to go smoothly may well be setting yourself up for failure. Some teens simply want to get it over with and will comply while others will be openly hostile and resentful. It’s important to remember not to take it personally. These teens are hurting and lashing out at the adults in their world in order to establish some sort of personal security system. Remember, these teens are in foster care for a reason, and that reason may have to do more with their issues than their family issues often your information will be very vague.
Perhaps you’ve never had children, you’ll have to search back in your memory to your own teen years. If you plan to foster teens, you’ll going to have some challenges. If you’ve had children and survived their teen years then you’re as prepared as you can get.
You’ll want to have the house rules ready when you welcome teens into your home. Keep your house rules simple and reasonable. What you consider reasonable and the teen considers reasonable may well be two very different ideas. For some, reasonable will never be enough and they will challenge each and every rule they see.
A great example of rules would be having a quiet time where all electronics are turned off in preparation for school the next day and bed. Be open and honest in your expectations without being overwhelming and your relationship will go far.
Insist on honesty, if a teen is going to challenge a rule ask them openly why. Don’t let them argue but teach them to discuss and give valid reasons for why they feel that a rule is unacceptable. If they don’t like an 11:00 pm curfew find out why…perhaps they’ve never had one, or maybe the school dance isn’t over until midnight. Be willing to talk it through and work out compromises when necessary. Help them to understand that it’s for their own protection that you impose rules.
Teens in the foster care system are hurting and many don’t understand why the adult world is so difficult to navigate. They’ve felt judged and betrayed by everyone especially their own family. It’s going to take time to build up their trust and help them to succeed in life. Having the patience to wait out that time can be trying at best.
When the teens feel safe they’ll begin to settle in. It can seem overwhelming to a teen to make this transition and often they are observing your every move preparing to trust you. That trust is a secure bond to them.
Remember the honeymoon period. You know, that first few weeks where everything seems bliss. Suddenly one day everything may turn upside down and you’ll know that the teen has settled in and the honeymoon is over.
Many teens thrive on routine. Whether it be after school activities or pre planned family activities, routine is a great stabilizer to any family unit.
Give them ample opportunity to talk and share with you but never pry if you can help it. Knowing when to respect their privacy and when to intrude is a cultivated skill that will be of great value to you as a foster parent.
Do you have other children at home? How old are they? Will they get along with the teen? Do your teens have issues that may create conflict? These are all things one must consider when preparing to foster a teen.
One must also be prepared for an angry teen. Teens are full of emotions that can change in an instant. Helping them find ways to cope with said anger will go far in a successful foster arrangement.
Many teens in this situation require long term counseling. Make sure to make it easily available for your foster teen and take them to and from appointments as necessary. Don’t rely on the teen to just walk over to the counseling appointment and back, many will skip out on it thinking its useless information when in fact it can be full of valuable tools to help the teen cope.
Keep your own schedule in mind when working with teens as foster children. Teens are going to require a lot of energy and effort on the adults part. They may think that they are self maintaining but in reality this is often the most difficult group to foster. Requiring parental supervision, taxi service, help with homework, trips to counselors (in many cases) and more time to bond.
Being a foster parent can be incredibly rewarding, or it can be the worst mistake you ever made. Consider your own family needs before you take that giant step into foster parenting.